How do animals in the desert get and conserve water? How they survive without water?

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How do animals in the desert get water?

The desert animals fulfill their little water requirements by getting the water from the food they do eat.

They eat mice, other small mammals, and invertebrates, birds, insects, amphibians, eggs, cacti, yuccas, agaves, etc. to get the water they do need.

For herbivores, like camels, iguanas, ground squirrel, kangaroo rat, pack rat, jack rabbit, etc. they mostly feed on the plants like cacti, yuccas and agaves that have stored water and nutrition inside it.

For carnivores animals like Desert monitors, sand cat, striped hyena, desert fox, etc. they feed on the herbivore animals of the desert and fulfill their water requirements from them.

In simple words, the carnivores of the desert get their water from the blood and body tissues of their prey.

Desert birds and reptiles often get water by eating insects, and other invertebrates.

So the majority of the desert animals have adapted themselves to get the moisture they need from their food only, and so they don’t need to drink much water. Some are there that don’t even drink water at all.

While those animals that live along the edges of deserts, are known to mostly feed on the plants and also they are seen digging up the soil to suck the little bit of water present underground.

There are also animals that show some of the strange water collection techniques in the desert.

Just like the Australian Thorny Devil (thorny lizard) that collects the little water dew it gets in the soil inside the grooves on the surface of its skin. Then they do use the capillary action to bring moisture to the lizard’s mouth.

Another one is the Namibian desert beetle that has complex micro-pores on its exoskeleton using which it will collect water dew from the soil.

Now, there’s more of such adaptations and unique ways shown by the desert animals to get water.

We’ll know them all. So, just keep reading!

Desert Animal Oryx (A Large Antelope)
Desert Animal Oryx (A Large Antelope)

How do animals in the desert conserve water?

The animals in the desert have physically and anatomically adapted themselves to conserve the little water they get.

This conservation is very important as that little is very significant for running on their body metabolism.

They have also adapted a lot of behavioural strategies that leads them to conserve the water they do get in the dry arid regions of the deserts.

It has been also seen that the desert animals make less use of water and so they don’t even lose water through breathing, excretion, sweating, milk, and egg production.

Such body mechanisms are performed utilizing the less amount of water possible just like having dry feces and concentrated urine and milk production.

A majority of them are nocturnal creatures and are only seen to come out during the cool nights, and so they safe themselves from the dehydrating effects of the daylight heat of the sun. Thus, avoiding the excessive loss of water.

Many desert animals avoid the dry arid summers by aestivating during the whole summer season in the form of summer sleep. In doing so they remain hidden underground or under the rocks and reduce their body metabolism by upto 98%, thus allowing them to escape high heat and conserve water.

Some animals like the fox, camels, antelope squirrels, donkeys, etc. don’t aestivate and remain the most active during the daytime. They do so because they have thick fur and sparsely covered abdomens and legs that radiate excess heat and insulate them from much water loss.

Their body adaptations and physiology are the most unique feature that better help them conserve the water.

Just for example, in many rat species and Jackrabbits, you will find large ears. These large ears are well-supplied with blood vessels.

The blood flow physiology of the ears of these animals helps them keep cool. The blood flow decreases when the air is hotter than the body temperature to avoid overheating of the body. On the other hand, when the air is cool the blood flow to the ears increases to lose heat to cooler air.


How do animals in the desert survive without water?

There are no such animals on earth that don’t have water in their body. All animals have water in their body which they have either got by drinking or by producing water in their body during the various metabolic reactions.

So, no life on earth is actually possible without water as water is the essence of life.

So, the desert animals have adapted a lot of mechanism to store the water in their body and survive long without any hassle of water requirement.

To do so they follow various ways to conserve water in their bodies. For conserving water, some animals have thick insulating fur, some have long legs to stay high up from the warm ground, some have large ears, while some can store huge amount of metabolic fats in their body, some creatures are nocturnal, and with many more adaptations.

Some like the desert and giant tortoises can store enough water in their bladder whenever they eat plants or drink water. This stored water lets them survive for long without intaking any water.

Some animals can also store water not only in their bladder but also in their gills, and skin layers and can stay for more than a year without water.

Some animals like the Kangaroo rats don’t drink water at all. They get the water by oxidizing the food they have eaten and also from their body fats.

Kangaroo rats can survive almost entirely on the water metabolized from the dry seeds that are eaten. It is also to be noted that they can easily extract a half gram of water out of every gram of seeds consumed, thus letting them stay alive for years.

In the deserts, various frogs and toads are known to dig deep underground and shrink-wrap themselves in a mucus membrane to conserve water for months while they are aestivating.

The large lizards called Gila monsters store water in fatty deposits in their tails and desert tortoises store water in their urinary bladders that can be reabsorbed when needed.

Taking the most famous examples of camels, it has been seen that they can travel up to 100 desert miles and can survive for weeks to months without water.

Camels do so by storing more than 80 to 90 pounds of fat in their humps, and later they do break down those fats into water and energy whenever drinking water is not available.

Camels and foxes also have thick fur and skin that don’t allow them to dehydrate during the hot days, thus conserving water and insulating heat.

Other strange things have also been noticed in a few desert lizard species like the Thorny devil lizard that lives in the Australian Outback and possesses the ability to drink with its skin. They can conserve water by insulating the heat with its tough skin.

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What are the adaptations of desert animals?

All those that we have discussed above are some of the well-known adaptations known so far. Well there’s a lot more adaptions in the desert animals.

The two main adaptations that desert animals show and have are for conserving water and dealing with extreme temperatures by maintaining their internal body temperature.

All desert animals have learned ways and have adapted themselves either voluntarily or involuntarily to avoid the heat of the desert by simply staying out of it as much as possible.

They have adapted themselves to eating food like cactus, succulent plants, seeds, or the blood and body tissues of their prey to get the water and nourishment.

Many are nocturnal creatures and stay out of the day heat hiding in the burrows or rocks or bushes. They avoid the direct rays of the sun.

Those that are diurnal have thick body fur, long legs, large ears to better insulate them from the extreme level of day heat, and save themselves from dehydrating.

Some animals get all of the water they need from the insects, bulbs, and seeds they eat. They will not drink water even when it is available.

Some store excess fat in their bodies just like camels and Gila monsters, and so can go months between meals and water by living off utilizing the fat stored in its tail.

They have also adopted various anatomical features, behavioral strategies, and physiological strategies to get rid of the cacti’s harmful effects when they feed on it.

Just like Collared Peccary(A Musk-hog) that has a tough mouth and specialized digestive system which enables it to chew and ingest and digest thorny cactus very easily.

Others like the Sand Grouse bird (close relatives of pigeons) can carry water in its feathers from the water source to the nest to nourish their young ones.

Another adaptation like those seen in the Dorcas Gazelle (a species of North African antelopes) is known to never drink water or urinate. They are known to get the water from the seeds and leaves they eat.

Well, the animal kingdom is so diverse that there are a lot of desert adaptations still to be written here in this post. And, a lot of the adaptations are still to be discovered in the near future.


How do animals and plants depend on each other in the desert?

The major interaction between plants and animals in the desert is that the plants help the animals get water and nutrition, while the animals, in turn, help the plants in the dispersal of the plants’ seeds.

This is a type of mutualism or mutual interactions benefiting each other very well.

Now, the benefits that the animals receive from the plants are more than what the majority of the plants receive from the animals.

Not only water and food, but the very best way for the animals to get shelter and escape the burning heat of desert areas is by sitting and staying under the shade of the plants.

Just like taking the example of Gila Woodpeckers it is seen that they eat mainly insects, but they will also eat cactus fruits as well. They avoid contact with the thorns while eating.

In fact, in the Sonoran Desert, it has been seen that the Gila Woodpeckers often make their nest cavities in Saguaro cactus. The inside of a cactus provides a safe, cool place for the woodpeckers to raise their young.

Just like the various insects that pollinate the plants by going from flower to flower in order to obtain nectar. Animals and birds can also help the plants to grow in the new regions after they have eaten the fruits of the plants and secrete the seeds elsewhere.

Another way like, plants and animals benefit each other as members of food chains and the ecosystems. And so, plant–animal interactions are as important in deserts as they are in any other ecosystem.

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