How do animals survive in the Sahara desert?
Life in the Sahara desert is very harsh and extremely hot during the daytime. It is scorching hot in the summer season with a temperature above 50°C.
However at nighttime in any season of the year, the temperature is quite normal and cool. During the winters the temperature can go to freezing cold at night time and about 35 to 40°C during the day.
So, How do animals survive in the Sahara desert?
Those few animals that live in the Sahara desert is well adapted to the harsh conditions prevailing there. They are mostly nocturnal and so only come out during the night time and remains underground at day time due to avoid excessive water loss.
They are capable of staying alive by utilizing the little amount of water they get by metabolizing their body fats, by feeding on succulent plants like cactus, and by taking the blood and meat from their prey.
A very few species live in the midst of the hot, dry, arid, and sandy deserts of the Sahara region.
While the majority of the animals can be seen in the border areas and also in the remote drainage basins where the climatic conditions aren’t so much harsh as of those in the central areas of Sahara.
Most importantly, it is again to be noted that, only those animals are able to survive that are well-adapted to living with little need of water. For example Cobras, Kangaroo Rats, Kit Foxes, and desert lizards.
Only a few species stay in the sand dunes of the desert that covers about 15% of the total Sahara’s areas. And the majority of the species can be seen living near the lakes and pools, rocky regions, mountains, plateaus, sand and gravel covered plains, salt flats, basins and depressions.
As, it is to be noted that the Sahara desert is the largest hot desert in the world, and the third largest desert behind Antarctica and the Arctic cold deserts.
This large desert covers an area of about 9.2 million km², which is almost the same as the total area of China. And, this desert covers about 8% to 9% of the earth’s total land area.
So, with such a huge area in mind, it is for sure that there are a large variety of animal species living in this desert.
And, those that are living are perfectly adapted to stay alive in such harsh conditions in their type of geographical habitat within the desert.
How actually is life in the Sahara desert?
Life in Sahara desert is actually very harsh, hot, and sunny during the daytime. The more inside the desert you enter the more harsh and uncomfortable the climate becomes.
The night hours can be freezing cold during the winters and somewhat cooling and comfortable during the summers.
Being located very near to the north of the equator it comes under the direction of the warm wind flow direction that dries the area as the wind flows over the desert.
It’s so close to the equator that the southern side of the desert is located about 600 miles (around 965 km) north of the equator.
And so, it’s warm and hot because the northeastern winds dry out the air over the desert and drive hot winds toward the equator making this region devoid of water, dry, and warm.
The amount of rainfall occurring is also very less in Sahara. Precipitation in the Sahara ranges from 0 to about 3 inches of rain only per year.
Some locations are there in the Sahara desert that hasn’t seen any rainfall for 5 to 6 years approx.
In simple words, life in the Sahara Desert is very difficult due to its climate. However, oasises are scattered throughout this desert but that’s not enough to make this desert to get rid of the hotness everywhere.
And if we consider the life of humans, than it is the most difficult place to live in due to the extreme level of dryness as compared to the other deserts. Probably that’s why you will only find few human settlements nearby the oasises only.
Taking into consideration the life of animals, it is to be noted that not all of the animals can survive here. Only those, that have adapted themselves by evolving very well to stay with the less use of water can survive here.
What animals can survive in the Sahara desert?
Life in the Sahara Desert is very difficult due to its climate. It receives less than 3 inches of rain every year.
So, only a few species of animals survive here as compared to the big list of animals present in this planet.
In simple words, if the tropical rainforest like the Amazon Rainforest is suitable for the survival of the most number of animal species on earth then the Sahara desert is suitable for the survival of the least number of animal species on earth.
As according to the data published by World Wildlife Fund (WWF), there are approximately 500 species of plants, 70 species of mammals, 90 species of residential birds, and about 100 species of reptiles that can be seen surviving and coming to the Sahara desert only.
Arthropods are also numerous, especially the ants. Others like the several species of spiders, scorpions, and other small arthropods can also be seen wandering around between the rocks and sand dunes.
Animals like the Cobras, Kangaroo Rats, Kit Foxes, and lizards can be seen split throughout the desert from sand dunes to the oasises.
Taking in consideration of the fox species, than a few foxes like the fennec fox, pale fox, and rüppell’s fox can be widely seen throughout the region.
Other mammalian species like the white addax (an antelope) can go without drinking water for about a year. It can stay alive using the fat deposits within its body and by getting the water collected from the plants it eats.
Other antelopes like the Dorcas gazelle, Rhim gazelle, and Dama gazelle can also survive from the little water it gets by eating the succulent plants.
Frogs, toads, and crocodiles live in the lakes and pools of the Sahara in the regions near Mauritania and the Ennedi Plateau of Chad.
Various species of desert Lizards, chameleons, skinks, and cobras are found among the rocks and dunes.
The lakes and pools of the Sahara also contain algae and brine shrimp and other crustaceans. Many species of desert snails can also be seen there.
Many other animals including the monitor lizards, hyrax, sand vipers, and small populations of African wild dogs, and Cheetah can also be seen in the regions of Sahara plateaus, sand and gravel covered plains.
Camels are the most well-known mammals found here. The camels along with desert goats are domesticated by the few human populations living near the fertile lands of the oasises.
So, the Arabian (dromedary) camels and goats are the domesticated animals most commonly found in the Sahara.
The Dromedary camels with their big and thick footpads help them navigate the rough rocky terrains and shifting desert sands with much speed and endurance.
What are some of the adaptations seen in the Sahara desert? (With Examples)
Here are the notable example of adaptations of some of the most popular animals seen in the Sahara desert.
This is how they have adapted and is surviving in the Sahara Desert. Check these out:
Example 1. Dromedary Camels
They have oval-shaped red blood cells, instead of circular RBCs like ours, to help in the proper flow of blood when the body is dehydrated, thus keeping them alive and moving.
To conserve water, they can trap the water vapor released by breathing out in their noses and reuse the water.
They have thick insulating fur that protects their body from the scorching heat of the sun during the day time.
They have cone-shaped hard palates and tough tongue papillae tissues that help them chew the cactus just like grinding seeds in a mortar and pestle. This help them gather water from cactus.
Example 2. Fennec Fox
They have large ears that are well-supplied with blood vessels to keep them cool. The blood flow in their ear decreases when the air is hotter than the body temperature, to avoid overheating of the body.
Their large ears allow them to hear predators and prey easily in the desert and release body heat to keep themselves cool on hot days.
It’s kidneys have also been adapted for the desert ecosystem as they are heat resistant and prevent water loss.
Example 3. Sand Horned Vipers
They have horns on their head that help them to protect their eyes from injury or help the snake to camouflage by hiding its whole body below the sand with its head above the sand.
The horned desert viper can burrow quickly into the sand by rapid sideways movements of its body, leaving only the head and eyes visible.
These are nocturnal creatures and so only come out at night. During the day, the snake spends its days hiding below the sand, or under the burrows, or beneath rocky outcrops.
Example 4. Rock Hyrax
They can be easily seen in the rocky geographical zones of the Sahara desert. They have well-adapted themselves to be able to climb on steep rock surfaces because of the various physical adaptations on their feet.
They are not ruminants, but still, they have three-chambered stomachs filled with millions of symbiotic bacteria that help in the proper break-down of the plants like cactus that they eat in the desert.
They are often seen sunbathing in shades of rocks and bushes to help maintain their body temperature and they don’t come out on cold nights. They are also unable to thermoregulate their temperature effectively on their own.
Example 5. Sandfish Desert Lizard
The Sandfish desert lizard of Sahara is a very small creature that has a long, wedge-shaped snout that it uses to quickly burrow into the sand. Doing so, it is able to swim like fish/snake through the sand.
This lizard spends nearly its whole life in staying inside the sand and only comes to the surface for foraging, defecating, and mating.
They have adapted themselves into having an aerodynamic filtering system that help them to respire and breathe the air perfectly without sand particles entering its respiratory organs when buried under thick layers of sand.
Example 6. Saharan Cheetah (Northwest African Cheetah)
Saharan Cheetah are mostly nocturnal and hunt at night. They using their excellent vision approach their prey by running after it at a superfast speed of about 70 miles per hour.
They prey on Antelope like Addax primarily, and also on Dorcas gazelle, Rhim gazelle, and Dama gazelle. They get most of the water and fat from their prey’s blood and meat to survive in the desert.
The color and appearance of the Saharan Cheetah are a bit different from the normal Grassland Cheetahs.
Its coat is shorter and nearly white in color, with spots that fade from black over the spine to light brown on the legs. This better helps them match and camouflage from their prey’s eyes in their type of habitat.
Example 7. Nile crocodile
The Nile crocodiles can be seen spread in the river basins in the regions of Chad, Egypt and Mauritania in the Sahara Desert zone.
Their body structure is adapted for life in the water of the river basins passing aside the Sahara Desert zone. They have a streamlined body with a long, powerful tail, webbed hind feet and a long, narrow jaw.
Their eyes, ears, and nostrils are located on the top of the head. This gives them the ability to stay submerged underwater, while taking out their sense organs a little above the water to see and hunt their prey.
They regulate their body temperature using the help of the environment. They thermoregulate their body temperature by moving into water or shade when they get too hot, and by basking in the sun when they are too cool.
Example 8. The Desert Monitor Lizard
These are burrowing lizards and can stay inside the burrows or hiding inside the rocks. They only come to the desert surface to search for food.
Their position of the nostrils helps to keep dirt and sand out from entering their respiratory tract. Salt glands help to minimize water loss by maintaining the salt balance in their body.
Their skin is adapted to the desert environment where they live, and they are excellent swimmers and divers and have been known to enter the water occasionally to hunt for food.
They are cold-blooded animals and so they are not able to maintain a constant body temperature. So, they get inactive as their olfactory and nerve signals significantly slow down in cold weather when the temperature is below 21°C. And they become again active when the temperature increases from 21°C to 37°C.
Example 9. Gazelle
Dorcas gazelles are highly adapted to the desert as they can stay without drinking water for years. They get the water they do need from the plants.
The Rhim Gazelle of Sahara have insulating coats that reflect the rays of the sun to prevent overheating, and their hooves enable them to walk on sand.
The Arabian Sand Gazelle is seen to be following a unique adapting strategy by shrinking its liver and heart when it’s too hot. This enables the sand gazelle to breathe less by also decreasing the water loss from their body.
Example 10. Sand Cat
Sand cats are known to have long and dense hair covering the soles of their feet. This provides them with excessive insulation from the hot sands, and thus helping them move across the sand and hot surfaces in the desert.
They also have a physical adaptation that is the presence of a thick coat that insulates them from the alternating intense heat and cold of a desert environment.
This small wild cat lives in the sandy and stony deserts far from the water sources. And, it is also able to better camouflage with the presence of its sandy to light-grey thick fur covering its body, thus enabling them to be camouflaged in a desert environment.
Sand cats don’t drink water for weeks to months and can easily stay alive by getting the moisture they need from their prey’s blood and meat.
How do birds adapt and survive in the Sahara Desert?
The famous examples of birds seen in the Sahara desert are the Common ostrich, Golden nightjar, Fulvous babbler, Ammomanes, Lappet-faced vulture, Houbara bustard, House bunting, etc.
Almost all of the birds that are seen in the Sahara have the same shades of brown or light-brown color of their feathers with vibrant varieties between the species.
This better helps them to camouflage by matching the body colour with the colour of the surrounding dry, arid, and sandy region.
They all can thrive without drinking water for months. They obtain the moisture they do need from their food like nectar and fruit as well as from insects and other prey species.
Their digestive system is so well-adapted that they can even extract the water and moisture they do need from the dry seeds and leaves they eat.
Their other excretory organs and kidneys are also well-adapted in minimizing the loss of water through faeces, so they excrete almost no liquid.
They remain mostly active at the dawn and dusk time in search of food and other activities when the heat of the sun is not so active.
During the day time, they remain under the shade of trees, bushes, and shrubs to avoid the loss of water.
The Common Ostrich bird has thick feathers that help them insulate the body from the daylight heat of the sun. Their long and flat feet help them stay up above the warm sand and easily and swiftly run through the sand.
Bird-like the Golden Nightjar is active at dawn and dusk and through the night. It is also seen feeding over insects in the waterbodies at dusk time. They mostly get the moisture from the insects they eat.
Another one, like the Lappet-faced Vulture not only feeds on dead animals as scavengers, but they also act as carnivores by hunting and feeding on small birds, animals, and also by stealing food from other birds or animals.