How do animals survive in the desert without water?
It’s to be cleared very early that no animal on this planet earth can live without water. All living beings need water just in order to sustain and carry out their definite body metabolism.
So, living beings can either directly take water from the food they eat, or drink it directly, or biochemically fulfill the water requirements from their body’s biochemical pathways.
Here, in the case of the desert animals, all of the animals living in the desert have been very well-adapted to the little to no use of water.
They have done so by having adapted themselves to a lot of biological mechanisms to store the water in their body and survive long without any hassle of water requirement.
They have well-adjusted their body metabolism according to the dry arid environment so that they can easily sustain themselves with little to no use of water.
Here, little to no use of water means that they can directly drink a little water they do get, or they won’t drink any water at all during their lifetime.
In spite, they will fulfill their body water requirements from the various biochemical pathways going on in their body.
So, How will they do this? Keep reading this post, we’ll understand this very clearly.
Some of the notable adaptations that help the animals survive without water are the presence of thick insulating fur, presence of long legs to stay high up from the warm ground, some have large ears, adaptation to store huge amount of metabolic fats in their body, having nocturnal lifestyle, and many other.
They also do follow a variety of physiological and behavioural adaptations to conserve water in their body so that they can live without drinking any water during dry hot sunny days.
All of these above-mentioned adaptations are some of the prominent ways to conserve water in their bodies which help them survive in the dry, hot, and arid deserts.
Which desert animals can survive without water for a very long time?
Animals like the Camel, Ostrich, Giraffe, Sand Gazelles, Kangaroo rat, pocket mice, desert tortoise, and toads like the Sonoran Desert toad and desert spadefoot, Gerbils, beetles, lungfish, and lizards like the desert-horned lizard, Gila monster, desert iguana, desert spiny lizard, fennec fox, etc. are some of the well-known desert animals that can survive without water for a very long time.
As we all know that in the deserts organisms remain in close association with the scorching heat of the sun with very little to no amount of rainfall annually.
The organisms there has been well-adapted over time to get their water from the food they eat and also from the water holes.
So, sometimes it is a matter of utmost importance that their bodies are being naturally capable of storing water and absorbing it whenever needed all through their body’s own metabolism. And that’s what is happening as they all are well-adapted to do so.
And here, it is also important to note that almost 90% of all organisms that survive in the desert are used to such a type of living.
So, How do desert animals conserve water? How do they get water?
Desert animals have also physiologically, behaviorally, and anatomically adapted themselves to conserve the little water they get. This conservation is very important as that little water is very significant for running their body’s metabolism.
They have also well-adapted themselves to retrieve the required water they need from their stored body fats and food carbohydrate contents. Some animals can even absorb the water from the urine to reuse it in the body.
Behavioural adaptations like being nocturnal, hibernation, and aestivation are also some of the prominent adaptation techniques that help them conserve water.
Desert animals like the Kangaroo rat and pocket mice don’t even drink water at all. They depend on their body’s carbohydrate metabolism to supply water to them as per their biological needs.
Camels can stay about two to three weeks or even months without water in harsh conditions. They metabolize the fat in their humps to get the required water and nutrition.
Giraffes on the other hand can last longer than camels without water. They fulfill much of their water requirements from the leaves they eat.
Ostrich has long legs that help them keep their body up above the hot desert ground. They are known for their perfect ability to retain water by excreting the nitrogenous wastes from their body with extra-concentrated toxins using a special mucus that their body produces.
Rodents like the Kangaroo rat, pocket mice, etc. don’t drink water at all. They get the water by oxidizing the food (dry seeds, berries) that they have eaten and also by metabolizing their body fats.
Desert tortoise species are known for their ability to store water in their bladders when enough water is available to them. This water helps then to stay hydrated during the harsh seasons of the year.
Toads like the Sonoran Desert toad and desert spadefoot bury themselves deep underground during the dry summer days in the deserts and better shrinks their body and wrap themselves in a mucus membrane to conserve water.
Gerbils on the other case, don’t drink much water. They can go without drinking for 3 to 5 days. In such a case, it is very much sure that it is meeting its water requirements through the food it eats.
Beetles like the Namib Desert beetle are known to fulfill their water requirements from the morning fog by letting droplets of fog accumulate in its body surface which falls down through its wing case into its mouth.
Fishes like the lungfish become land dewellers when the water during the summer days gets evaporated. During those harsh times they burrow deep into the dried mud and breathe air through their lungs-like bladder.
Desert lizards like the desert-horned lizard, Gila monster, etc. don’t drink water at all, they absorb it through their skin directly from the air.
How can one forget Sand gazelles? Sand gazelles drinks even less amount of water as compared to the camels and can go for 4 to 5 weeks without water.
Sand gazelles can do so by shrinking their heart and liver and so by lowering down their body metabolism just in order to retain water in their body.
Sand gazelle has also well-adapted itself to absorb excess water from the urine and reuse it to fulfill its water requirements.
Famous foxes of the sandy Sahara deserts and North Africa are known to go for long periods without water. They fulfill their water requirements from the blood and body tissues of their prey. Their diet ranges from eggs, termites, and lizards to fruit of succulent plants and seeds.
Why don’t desert animals just move somewhere greener to get the water they need?
A desert is generally without any water and vegetation. There is the presence of an oasis (plural oases) in the midst of a desert where water comes up to the surface from deep underground.
These oases are those irrigated greener regions of the desert around which trees and other plants can grow with ease.
It is to be noted that, desert animals according to their water needs can come near the oasis to drink water, eat the plants, and find shade under the canopy of the trees.
These greener places are full of other animals that are better adapted to living in those places, while those living in the dry desert parts away from the oasis are known to visit the oasis at regular intervals to gather water and food.
For example, Camels are known to visit oases at regular intervals of three to four weeks of a timespan to drink large amounts of water – up to 20 gallons at a time. And, then they return to their respective locations.
And it is also to be noted that not all animals living in the desert will visit the oasis, as they have well-adapted themselves for fulfilling their water and nutritional requirements in the middle of the dry arid desert very well.
Just like for example, the tiny kangaroo rats inhabiting the south-western desert parts of the United States do not drink water for their whole lifespan. They are one of those animals that don’t go somewhere greener to get the water they need.
However, there are many desert animals like camels and Sand gazelles who in some cases, if they wish to, may not visit any greener area like an oasis for many months to directly drink water. This normally happens if they can get all of the moisture they need from desert plants, fruits, and seeds.
Some of the species of birds like ostriches, Nubian bustards, Water pipits, guinea fowl, desert eagle owls, barn owls, sand larks, pale crag martins, fan-tailed ravens, etc. Other animals like Barbary sheep, Rabbits, Hares, Frogs, toads, and crocodiles, Oryx, Anubis baboon, spotted hyena, dama gazelle, jackals, and sand foxes are some of the animals that live along the edges of deserts, where there are more plants and shelter.
So, these animals need not go anywhere away from the greenery to the middle of the desert to fulfill their water needs.