How Have Humans Adapted To Living In The Desert? – (Let’s Know In Detail)

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How have humans adapted to living in the desert? The people of the deserts have biologically adapted themselves by being capable of maintaining a relatively constant internal body temperature to keep up with the body’s homeostasis. They have well-adapted themselves by maintaining a balanced thermoregulatory system by following a reduced rate of body metabolism which produces less body heat.

They do still follow their traditional lifestyle techniques, rearing of livestock, various behavioural adaptations, having various physical adaptations as well to cope up with the warm environment, and they have also adapted their diet in accordance to their environmental conditions.

It is to be noted that, geographically deserts occupy over one-fifth of the Earth’s landmass area, which is around 33% of the earth’s total land area.

And it is also to be noted that these dry barren wastelands or deserts are home to one-sixth of the world’s total population surviving in such harsh habitats.

So, these many people who live in the deserts have well-adapted themselves in a variety of ways right from their dressing sense to the genetic makeover for living in such a kind of a harsh habitat.

Along with humans, the deserts occupy a huge population of an impressive number of flora and fauna species that have also adapted themselves to living in such hot and dry deserts.

Here, in this particular post, you will learn in detail about some of the noteworthy human adaptations that people have adapted to for living in some of the hot and arid deserts around the globe.


Maasai people of northern Tanzania desert

How have humans adapted to living in the desert? Here’s explained some of the noteworthy human adaptations for living in the desert. Let’s Know

1. People in the deserts follow their traditional lifestyles

Yes, the people who inhabit the dry arid desert regions are often known for still following their daily traditional lifestyles.

As to what their ancestors inhabiting the desert parts have followed are still continued by the present generations with little to no advancement in their lifestyle and way of living.

You will often see the people of deserts following their nomadic lifestyle and it is also why they are called nomads. Meaning that they constantly change their locations within the desert, switching from one place to another in search of places with water and food.

As a result of their nomadic lifestyle, you will find them moving and settling very frequently from place to place just in order to prevent exhausting an area of its resources.

Nomads rear cattle like sheep, goats, cows, and camels which they call their livestock. They fulfill their daily food, water, and travel requirements from these animals.

Some of the nomads are craftsmen and make a living by selling their goods. Depending on the geographic locations they also raise crops like bajra, jowar, wheat, and mustard seeds on irrigated land.

People living in the deserts usually settle in or near an oasis (a fertile spot in a desert, where water is found).

They carry their rared animals with them wherever they go and settle, and so every time they do make new huts both for themselves and their livestock.

Their shelters are also kind of traditionally built. They all have become experts in making mud houses that act as good insulators against the scorching day sun.

Mud and animal dung are often used to make brick for the construction of the house that makes it quite insulating from the day heat.

They have also adapted themselves to avoid working during the hot daylight hours and often known for hunting during the early dawn, early dusk, and nighttime when the temperature remains cool.

Nomadic people wear various ethnic clothes. They wear kind of special clothing and fabrics that helps protect them from the day heat and protect their eyes, nose, and mouth from sand storms.

Some of these people that live in the desert parts are well adapted to their own kind of an unparallel lifestyle.

The Australian Aborigines, the Bedouins of the Arabic deserts, the Berbers of North Africa, the Bejas of Namibia, and the Sans (Bushmen) of the Kalahari desert are those ethnic groups that are well-adapted for living in the desert.

2. Their use of Livestock

The people living in the deserts rear animals like sheep, goats, cows, donkeys, and camels. These animals are prominent role players in the life of the nomadic people.

They play a key role in proving food, water, and various other resources like leather, wool, dung, etc. Nomads also use them in carrying goods from one place to another, and also for farming.

Nomads mainly survive on the products derived from their animals like curdled milk, butter, curd, etc. Their farmlands produce dates and cereals which help them prepare flour which they eat.

They also get meat from their reared animals like goats, sheep, and cows. People there also rear animals like Jack Rabbits and gazelles which provide them with high protein meat.

Just like the people of the Sahara desert who hunt for the different kinds of gazelles and other animals like Jack Rabbit to fulfill their daily protein requirements.

They also drink raw blood to fulfill their daily dietary requirements. Just like the Maasai people (a semi-nomadic tribe of southern Kenya and northern Tanzania) who drink raw cow blood on special occasions and also for treating themselves from intoxication and hangover.

Camel is one of the most reared livestock in the desert. This animal is a vital commodity for desert-living groups for hundreds to thousands of years.

Camel is better used for transportation of goods and people in the deserts, for ploughing in agricultural lands, to provide milk, and make other milk products. They also get fur from camels to make clothes.

The dried livestock’s dung is also used as fuel for cooking and lighting purposes. The dung is also used to make bricks and insulate the houses.

Many ethnic groups also include the droppings of sheep and goats in their high protein daily diet.

Other animals like sheep, goats are also reared. The tanned goat and sheep skins are also for tent coverings to insulate the homes.

3. Some of their noteworthy behavioural adaptations

People living in the desert pursue different activities based on the behavioural adaptations that they have developed over the years for sustaining in the harsh desert conditions.

People of the desert have developed various social customs, and even physical attributes aligning together with their behavioural patterns that have enabled them to live well there.

One of the notable behavioural adaptation is that the people of the deserts are basically nomads, that is they go and settle in a new area after spending 3 to 8 months in one area.

The people lead a nomadic life because the availability of food and water are not in a stable supply at many locations.

Thus, they travel along with their livestock from one place to another, particularly from one oasis to another, for sustenance.

Just like take the example of nomads from the dry arid deserts of Morocco, Egypt, Jordan, and North Africa.

Also, it is to be noted that they have highly developed their hunting skills, for gathering food by hunting, searching, and storing all with remarkable efficiency.

Just take the example of the Bushmen of the Kalahari desert and the Bindibu of Australia who have developed an efficient hunting skill by using poison arrows to hunt large animals like antelope, buffalo, cheetah, eland, elephant, gazelle, giraffe, impala, lion, puku, warthog, zebra, etc. for meat.

The Bushmen people are notable for their hunting skills. They know better how to hunt and eat rather than rearing livestock.

These tribes also do not grow crops and rear animals. They have selected hunting using their well-equipped weapons like poisoned arrows, traps, spears, and snares as their prominent method to gather food.

One thing you will also see in the Bushmen tribe is the way they wear their clothes. These people wear dried animal flesh or skin as clothes or in some instances can even remain naked.

These people have also adapted an awesome way to collect water from the leaves in the early morning and store it safely for the day’s need.

They store water in the eggshells, basically, they use Ostrich eggshells. Or, whenever they find any water in the ground they dig the mud and suck the water from the ground using a hollow reed.

The Tiwi Aboriginals people are known for squeezing a frog and drinking water out of it directly into their mouths. This frog is named the Australian water-holding frog that stores water in its gills, tissues, and bladder for living for up to five years without drinking.

During the daytime, the desert people spend much of their time under the thorny bushes in shade. They avoid hunting during the day as it is very hot.

Other tribes like the Bindibu of Australia are known to domesticate wild dogs which help them in finding rabbits, birds, and kangaroos for a hunt.

People living in the deserts also collect herbs, shrubs, cactus leaves, various varieties of grass, roots, berries, and seeds to add supplements to their diet.

In many deserts, it has been seen that the main duties of the men in the family are ploughing the fields, animal grazing, weaving and house construction, or doing other money-earning activities.

Whereas, the main duties of the women include bringing water from the well or pond, cooking, washing, maintenance of the house, etc.

Also, their behavioural adaptation to staying depends on their house construction patterns.

Just like the Berbers of North Africa live in massive mud-brick structures often built on fortified mountaintops or dug into the ground.

The Bushmen people of Kalahari used to make their homes in caves according to the historians and now they live in temporary shelters simply made up of thin branches and tall grass.

If you see the Bedouin of the Arabian desert stay in tents and ride on horses, the Tuaregs people of Sahara stay in tents and are the camel riders, and the Mongols of the Gobi desert herd their yaks riding on the horses. Mongols live in tents called yurts.

4. Some of their noteworthy physical adaptations

First and foremost, desert people are very good at thermoregulating their body temperature to an equilibrium state. They have a well-developed sweating mechanism which is their primary method of cooling the body by evaporating the sweat.

Their body mechanism is so well-adapted that they cool their brain and thermoregulate it by cooling the blood that reaches the brain from the other body parts by sweating.

Compared to the people living in normal conditions, the people of the dry arid deserts have adapted themselves so well for tolerating the adverse and unfavourable conditions that they can easily maintain their body homeostasis with their way of living.

Also, according to Allen’s rule if you see, then it can be stated that the greater the surface area, the faster body heat will be lost to the environment.

So, it’s that’s why you will see that the people living in the deserts have long arms, legs, and other appendages than those that live in the colder regions.

These lengthy body parts increase the surface area of the body which in turn helps the body to lose excess heat and keep them cool.

Just for example, if you see the people of the Maasai tribe of East Africa you will see that they are normally tall with long hands and limbs. This physical adaptation helps them to keep their body cool.

The body physiology of the desert people is so well adapted that they are very much okay to say the deserts their home.

Just for example if you take the example of the Bushmen people of Kalahari you will notice a good physiological adaptation in their body metabolic activities.

They have a reduced rate of body metabolism to produce less internal heat and that modified the sensitivity of sweat glands for adequately cooling down their body temperature without the individual becoming dehydrated.

So, it can be thus stated that people living in warmer climates like those in the dry arid deserts tend to have lower body BMR (basal metabolic rate) than those living in colder climates, irrespective of their body size and composition.

Moreover, you will see that the desert inhabitants are black in appearance, mostly those people living in parts of Africa like the Maasai people, Bushmen people, etc.

These people look black because of a lot of melanin secreted all over the skin. Melanin is a natural biological skin pigment that is secreted by special skin cells called melanocytes.

This melanin pigment acts like the body’s natural sunscreen, thus helping them to protect against the damaging UV (ultra-violet) light of the sun while keeping the body and skin cool and damage-free from the sun’s adverse effects.

5. Their omnivorous diet

The diet of the ethnic groups living in the desert varies widely depending on the geographic location, climatic condition, and biodiversity prevailing in that area.

Their diet mostly includes less water content food like dates, cereals, rice, along with locally available varieties of vegetation, tea, and coffee.

They basically intake a medium-level of protein-based food that is highly beneficial for maintaining the reduced body metabolism which is in accordance with the ongoing environmental conditions.

The Bushmen people of Kalahari will eat anything available to them ranging from animals to those of the little grains, roots, nuts, and berries they get. They are basically hunters and mostly feed on the meat they do gather by hunting.

The Australian Aborigines people feed by both growing vegetation and by hunting. Their diet mainly depends on a wide variety of fruits, nuts, roots, vegetables, berries, grasses, and seeds. They hunt and gather meat from animals like kangaroos, porcupines, emus, turtles, shellfish, and fish.

The Bedouins people of the Arabic deserts depend on the livestock and herding of camels, goats, sheep, cows, and donkeys. They fulfill their daily meat, dairy products, and agricultural requirements from these reared animals. They also feed on rice and dates they grow from their fields near a well-irrigated area.

The Bejas people of Namibia feeds on both meat and vegetation. They gather meat by hunting giraffes occasionally, kudu, oryx, and other antelope. Beef meat is also very common there.

Most of the Bejas people of Namibia eats plenty of mealie pap (a maize meal in the form of a paste) and Oshifima (mahangu flour and cornmeal boiled in water) which is often eaten with meat or vegetable stews.

The Berbers of North America basically follow a mixed food pattern that differs from one place to another within North America. Their daily diet mostly includes corn, barley, ewe’s milk, goat cheese, butter, honey, and meat gathered by hunting.

In many parts of the deserts, there is very very little availability of water. So many people living in those harsh conditions like for example the Bushmen people of Kalahari survive off the little moisture stored in plant roots, leaves, and berries available to them.

6. Some of their noteworthy evolutionary adaptations

The first notable evolutionary adaptation is the improvement in the thermoregulatory system of the body over the millions of years of evolution just in order to maintain the body homeostasis and reduce internal heat production.

The reduced rate of body metabolism is an evolutionary adaptation that has also helped the body’s thermoregulatory system and so is helpful in keeping the body in a homeostatic state.

Their sweating mechanism is well developed that keeps the body cool even in the low availability of drinking water so that the body can rid itself of excess heat by sweating.

The people of the deserts are tall, thin, with little body fat, a wide nose, and a long face. This increases the surface area of the body which according to Allen’s rule can be defined as the greater the surface area, the faster body heat will be lost to the environment. So, this is a very significant evolutionary adaptation.

They have a wide nose since warming of the air in the nasal passages is not desirable in order to keep the body cool in such a type of hot environment of the deserts.

Also, they are dark skin colored people because of the presence of a much amount of melanin pigment secretion in their skin. This evolutionary adaptation shields them from harmful solar radiation and also serves in lowering down the sweating threshold.

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