Animals in the Cold Desert

Updated March 23, 2017

Any environment on earth that receives less than 10 inches of rain or precipitation each year qualifies as a desert. The driest deserts get less than half an inch of precipitation throughout the year. Cold deserts like Atacama on the coasts of Chile and Peru in South America number among these driest of deserts. Animals in the cold desert have adapted ways to survive in these extreme environments. Many different types of animals thrive in the cold desert.


Classified as a hare rather than a rabbit, the wrongly named jackrabbit makes its home in the cold desert. Unlike rabbits, hares do not build a nest for their young. The jackrabbit usually forages for edible vegetation during the night and remains under cover during the day to hide from predators. Due to their large ears, jackrabbits have a keen sense of hearing. This acute hearing and the ability to run at speeds of up to 40 miles per hour allow the jackrabbit to evade predators like the kit fox, coyote or occasional hawk.

Desert Kangaroo Rat

A rodent about the size of a mouse, the desert kangaroo rat has large hind legs and feet, a long tail and large eyes. Kangaroo rats burrow and dig out their own dens leaving a large opening, usually at the base of a creosote bush or in a bank of a sand drift. These dens sometimes reach a depth of 4 1/2 feet and contain many passages leading to food storage and nesting chambers. Kangaroo rats come out at night to feed on leaves, seeds, stems and insects. They spend most of the day sleeping in the dark confines of their den.


Recognisable for its bushy tail and large, pointed ears, the coyote primarily inhabits cold deserts in North America. They have sharp eyesight, sensitive hearing and a keen sense of smell. At the top of the cold desert food chain, coyotes eat mostly rodents and rabbits. and occasionally insects, reptiles or available fruits and nuts. Coloured to disguise them as they hunt prey, coyotes survive as one of the most adaptable animals on the planet. These clever creatures easily can adapt to just about any environment.

Kit Fox

This smallest member of the dog family typically grows to a length of 15 to 20 inches and a height of 11 to 12 inches. The kit fox makes its home in a den, cave, or among the rocks of the cold desert terrain. The small entrance to a kit fox den measures about eight to 10 inches in diameter and leads to one main chamber underground. Classified as omnivores, kit foxes eat lizards, rodents, toads, mice, insects, and some fruits and nuts. Their large ears help dissipate heat and assist in locating prey while hunting at night.

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Mark Kayo has been a writer for over 30 years and has work published on various websites. He has over 25 years experience writing copy for advertisements, marketing projects, catalogs and television commercials. Kayo has a bachelor's degree in advertising and marketing.