What animals conserve water & how?

Updated April 13, 2017

In some climates, animals have adapted to their environment to conserve water and some can go several days without consuming water. This allows them to survive the desert heat or travel over large distances without needing a water supply. Animals often conserve water by slowing down their bodily processes, but may implement other methods of water conservation to help themselves and their offspring survive.


In desert regions, camels are used as an alternative to horses for travel because of their suitability for the hot climate. Traditionally, people believed that camels stored water in their humps, but it has been found that the camel hump consists of body fat which can be metabolised and used as energy by their body. They can withstand long periods of water because of this adaptation and they can drink large amounts of water at one time. Another adaptation of camels is that they can withstand high temperatures and do not need to sweat, thereby conserving water other animals lose through perspiration. Camels also have water vapour in their nostrils, which is returned to the body and reduces water loss through breathing.

Gazelles and Antelope

The addax, a desert antelope, survives in waterless regions of the Sahara. The addax is well adapted to heat and eats grasses in order to attain water that it needs to survive. The addax conserves water by having highly concentrated urine. The addax can survive without a primary water source almost indefinitely and may have a lining in their stomach to store water in pouches to use water when dehydrated. Water conservation is also possible for animals like the gazelle that survive in the Saudi Arabian desert by slowing their breathing down and decreasing the rate of cellular respiration. The gazelle also can shrink its liver, which reduces water loss.


Some birds, such as the sand grouse have the ability to soak water into their feathers in order to provide a water source. When they return to their nest or breeding ground, they can suckle the water from their feathers. They normally need a stable water source, because of their dry diet. They also soak their belly feathers to bring water for their chicks. Males can carry approximately 20ml of water this way.

Desert Tortoise

The desert tortoise stores water it needs for survival by holding water under its shell. The desert tortoise gathers water from the cacti, wildflowers, and fruit that it consumes. The bladder of a tortoise can store about 40 per cent of its weight and turtles adapt their consumption based on rainfall and access to water. One issue encountered by the tortoise is to vacate the bladder if attacked, in danger or handled, leaving it vulnerable when in dry areas.

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About the Author

Andrea Helaine has a Bachelor of Philosophy in theology and is currently finishing her thesis course for a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing. Helaine has been writing professionally for over 10 years and has been published in several anthologies and is currently breaking into the screenwriting market.