Examples of desert animals include mammals (such as addaxes and hyenas), reptiles (such as toads and tortoises), birds (such as vultures and larks), and insects (such as camel spiders and desert beetles).
Deserts make up one-third of the earth’s surface. Billions of animals inhabit these dry, barren lands.
Due to the lack of water and vegetation, desert animals have adapted to survive under these harsh conditions.
Some desert animals are nocturnal, which helps them avoid the heat, while others have water-storing abilities to go long distances without tiring.
This article talks about the 34 most common animals found in deserts across the world.
1. Sand Cats
One of the most adorable desert creatures, the sand cat, is the only species of cat living in the deserts. It is a small mammal indigenous to Central Asia, North Africa, and the Middle East.
They live in thorny and sandy deserts walking on stable flat surfaces.
Sand cats have thin furry feet that help them survive in harsh desert temperatures. Their skin is tannish with stripes or spots. This helps them blend with the sand and hunt better. They also have small legs and flat heads.
The body length of an adult sand cat is around 20 inches, and its weight is around 7.5 lbs.
One of the most critically endangered animals in the world, the addax, is an antelope species. They inhabit the Sahara Desert and are also known as the White antelope or Screwhorn antelope.
Female addaxes are smaller than males and stand around 37 to 43 inches tall, while males grow up to 45 inches tall.
Addax antelopes have varying coat colors. In winter, their coat becomes grayish brown, with long brown hair on their neck. In the summers, their coat turns completely sandy white.
Poaching is the biggest threat to the conservation of the addax antelopes.
3. Antelope Jackrabbits
The antelope jackrabbit is a unique kind of hare found in the deserts of North America. This rabbit species is much larger than other common breeds. They have pointed ears almost as long as their legs.
The antelope jackrabbit has gray torsos, white underbellies, and orange patches on their necks. They are heavy and can weigh as much as 9 lbs.
4. Arabian Oryxes
There are four species in the genus oryx. The Arabian oryx is the smallest of them, native to the Arabian Peninsula. The other three reside in Africa.
Arabian onyxes have pale-colored fur and reach a height of around 40 inches. They became extinct in the wild in the 1970s but were later reintroduced by Oman in the early 1980s.
Illegal hunting continues to be the biggest threat to the conservation of these mammals.
5. Arabian Sand Gazelles
The Arabian sand gazelle (also called the Reem) is a small antelope species found in the deserts of Arabia. The IUCN classifies the Arabian sand gazelle as vulnerable due to its low numbers.
They were commonly found throughout the Arabian peninsula but are now only found in protected areas. Illegal hunting and habitat loss are the biggest threats to the species.
6. Deathstalker Scorpions
Found in the Sahara and the Arabian deserts, the deathstalker scorpions are an arachnid species. They are mostly found in the North African and Western Asian deserts.
They are one of the most dangerous scorpions in the world. A small sting from this scorpion can be fatal to humans.
Deathstalker scorpions are around 2 to 3 inches in length and appear in different colors.
When talking about deserts, it is important to mention camels. There are three types of camels found in the world:
- Wild Bactrian
The dromedaries make up about 94 percent of all the camels, while the wild Bactrian camels are found in negligible populations.
Camels are some of the most famous desert animals. The Arabian dromedaries have a single hump which they use to store food and water. This allows them to travel long distances comfortably.
They are commonly used for food and transportation because of their survival capabilities in dry habitats.
The dromedaries have bushy eyebrows, completely closable nostrils, and double-layered eyelids, which help them survive in the deserts.
8. Gila Monsters
Gila monsters are a type of lizard found in the deserts of North America. They are large, slow-moving reptiles with round beaded scales.
These lizards are venomous, but their bite is not fatal to humans.
9. Syrian Hamsters
The Syrian hamster, also called the golden hamster, is a type of rodent found in the deserts of Syria and Turkey. They generally live in the wild but are also kept as pets by people across the globe.
Syrian hamsters are classified as vulnerable, and their population is decreasing fast. They are territorial and can carry lots of food in their mouths thanks to their cheek pouches.
10. Lappet-faced Vultures
The lappet-faced vultures are a type of large predatory bird commonly found in the Middle East and Africa. They have red-colored heads and strong bills. The wingspan of a lappet-faced vulture can reach as wide as 8.5 feet.
They are scavengers and eat dead animals. They are one of the largest vulture breeds in the world and use their bills to easily tear apart their food.
The lappet-faced vulture is an endangered species as classified by the IUCN.
There are several species of mongoose found in the world. One of which is the famous meerkat.
Meerkats are small mammals found in the dry areas of Africa, mainly in the Namib and Kalahari deserts. They are highly social animals and are famous for standing upright.
Meerkats are diurnal and live in burrows at night. They live in groups that can contain as many as 50 members.
12. Mojave Desert Tortoises
Classified as critically endangered, the Mojave Desert tortoise is native to the Mojave desert in North America. They were previously known as the desert tortoise along with the Sonoran tortoise until 2011.
Mojave Desert tortoises spend most of their time hidden in burrows and rock shelters. They also hibernate during the winter.
13. Namib Desert Beetles
Namib desert beetles are a species of insects found in the Namib Desert in Southern Africa. The unique thing about these beetles is their method of drinking water.
They have special wings that collect small droplets of water from the morning fog. The water then travels to their mouth, helping them keep their thirst quenched.
This is a great ability to have in a desert environment where rainfalls are rare.
Related: Desert Insects
14. Red-Spotted Toads
Found in the arid lands of the Southwestern United States and Mexico, the red-spotted toad is a small animal that reaches a length of three inches. They have olive-green skin with loads of red spots.
They spend most of their time in rocky crevices to avoid the hot temperatures. During rainfall, they emerge out of their hiding spots mainly to breed.
15. Greater Roadrunners
The greater roadrunner is one of the two species of roadrunners in the world. They are fast-running cuckoos native to North America. They are extremely fast and can evade predators easily.
Roadrunners can fly, but they only do so as a last resort. They spend most of their time running on land with a top speed of 26 mph.
16. Saharan Silver Ants
The Saharan silver ants are named after their silver hair. The special hairs help reflect the sunlight, keeping their bodies cool. Their long legs also keep their bodies away from the scorching ground.
They leave their nests for about 10 minutes every day to gather food. They spend the rest of their time in underground colonies, hiding from predators such as ant-eating lizards.
17. Sidewinder Rattlesnakes
There are 36 known species of rattlesnakes in the world, one of which is the sidewinder.
The sidewinder rattlesnake is found in North American deserts. They get their name from the way they move in the desert.
Sidewinders use their tails as anchors and push their bodies forward, moving in a zigzag formation. They move extremely fast over sand and are venomous. Their venom is painful but is not lethal for humans.
They are also known as horned rattlesnakes due to the horn-like scales on their face.
18. Thorny Devils
Lizards are a common sight in deserts. The thorny devil is a species of lizard found in west and central Australia. They are called such due to their body texture.
Thorny devils have spikes all over their bodies to deter predators. They also have a fake head or the decoy head behind their head in case a predator attacks.
19. Water-Holding Frogs
The water-holding frog is an amphibian found in the Great Victorian desert. They live underground for most of their lives and only surface to mate.
Water-holding frogs form a cocoon around them in the ground and go into a state of aestivation, which involves a state of dormancy.
They are named after their water-storing abilities. They store fresh water inside their bladder when buried.
20. Kit Foxes
Commonly found in the Sonoran Desert, Kit foxes are small fox species of the Carnivora order. They have large ears that provide them with great hearing.
Kit foxes do not drink water regularly. They quench their thirst with their carnivorous diet, which includes rabbits.
They are mostly active at night and burrow in the ground to protect themselves from harsh temperatures.
Fennex foxes also live in deserts.
Jerboas are a species of rodents belonging to the Dipodidae family. They are mammals commonly found in deserts of Northern Africa, Australia, and Asia, including the Gobi desert.
They move via hopping, much like kangaroos. Their hind limbs are longer and more muscular than their front limbs, which aids them when hopping.
Jerboas have a sand-colored coat that helps them blend in the desert landscape and avoid predators.
22. Camel Spiders
Camel spiders are an arachnid of the Solifugae order and are also known as wind scorpions or sun spiders.
They grow to a length of around five to six inches. Camel spiders have a large, strong mouth which they use to attack their prey. They also have eight strong legs and two pedipalps which help them eat.
Camel spiders are commonly found in the dry areas of Syria.
23. Desert Larks
Desert larks are medium-sized birds found in deserts from Morocco to India. They are also called desert finches or sand larks.
The maximum size of an average desert lark is around 6 to 6.7 inches.
Deserts also contain several bird species, such as the sandgrouse. They are medium-sized birds that prefer living on the ground. They can fly and mainly feed on seeds.
Sandgrouses are found in large numbers around watering holes in deserts. They are native to the desert regions of Asia and Africa.
Gerbils are species of small rodents commonly found in deserts. There are several types of gerbils in the world:
- Great gerbils
- Mongolian gerbils
- Fat-tailed gerbils
- Balochistan gerbil
The Mongolian gerbil is the most common and is found in the deserts of Mongolia, China, and Russia. They live in burrows which they dig to avoid predators and the harsh climate.
Gerbils do not drink much water and can survive long periods without a water source.
Dik-diks are a species of small antelopes found in the bushlands of southern Africa. Adult dik-diks grow up to 28 inches long and 15 inches tall. They are named after the female alarm call that makes a dik-dik sound.
They have a low concentration of sweat glands which help them preserve their water levels. Dik-diks live in areas with an abundance of shrubs, fruits, and vegetables.
27. Spotted Hyenas
Hyenas are the most common large carnivores in Africa. There are four hyena species:
- Brown hyena
- Striped hyena
- Spotted hyena
The spotted hyena is the most common species. They are commonly found in sub-Saharan Africa and have strong front legs and necks.
Native to the North and South American continents, hummingbirds are the smallest birds in the world.
They are often found in the American deserts and eat nectar for nutrition.
Geckos are a species of reptiles found in deserts. They are experts at camouflaging due to their body colors. They are small and resemble chameleons.
Geckos cannot blink their eyes and rely on their long tongue to lick their eyeballs. They can get as long as 25 inches.
Amphibians are less common in deserts than other animals due to their reliance on water. Salamanders survive the hot desert heat by sleeping underground or under stones.
They are mostly found in North America and can go without water for months.
31. Angolan Giraffes
One of the most iconic African animals is the Angolan giraffe. They are found in Namibia, Botswana, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.
Angolan giraffes have long necks with spotted coats. They are among the tallest animals on the planet. Each giraffe has its own spot pattern, which sets them apart from one another.
The fastest land animal in the world, the cheetah, is found in grasslands and drylands around the world. The South African cheetah is the nominal species of the cheetah and can run as fast as 75 miles per hour.
They have an excellent vision which helps them hunt effectively. The open space of the desert provides the ideal ground for cheetahs to hunt without any obstacles.
33. African Elephants
The African elephants, or the desert elephants, are the largest and heaviest land animal in the world. They sleep for only about two hours every day. They spend most of their time digging waterholes and eating food.
34. Bighorn Sheep
Bighorn sheep are native to the United States. They are named due to their large horns that curve in towards the back of their head. The horns can weigh as much as 30 lbs. per pair.
Bighorn sheep are famous for their mating behavior in which the males compete to win the female over. The ritual involves two males facing each other and then lunging into headbutts.
Desert animals are adapted to live in harsh climates and have special abilities or characteristics that help them survive. Food and water storage is one of the most important abilities of desert animals. Nocturnal animals avoid the heat by coming out of their burrows at night.
Deserts are thriving ecosystems containing a variety of flora and fauna. Rats and snakes are some of the most common animals found in arid, hot, and dry lands.
What Types of Animals Live in the Desert?
There are several types of animals that live in deserts. Gerbils, rats, snakes, vultures, and cats are some of the most common species residing in arid climates.
What Plants Live in the Desert?
The Cactus is the most famous plant that thrives in deserts. Curve leaf yucca, brittlebush, and ghost plant are also some common types of plants.