Animals that Live in the Desert

Desert habitats are dry and don’t get much rain. Desert animals conserve water and maintain a comfortable body temperature. Desert animals have adapted to their environment by having different ways of getting food, shelter, and protection from predators.

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Bats are shy creatures that avoid contact with humans and fly in the dark to hunt for food. They clean their bodies with their tongues and hind feet before sleeping. Most bat species are nocturnal, meaning they emerge at night and sleep during the day.

There are more than 900 species of bats worldwide, and 44 species of bats live in the United States.

There are numerous species of bats in North America, including the Big Free-tailed Bat (Tadarida macrotis), which inhabits the southern Sonoran and Chihuahuan deserts.

Mexican-Free-tailed Bats live in the Chihuahuan Desert, Mexican Long-nosed Bats in the Sonoran Desert, Pallid Bats throughout the American Southwest, Pocketed Free-tailed Bats in the extreme southern Sonoran Desert, Silver-haired Bats in the Great Basin Desert, and Spotted Bats in the American Southwest.

Bat love to eat things like insects, nectar, pollen, fruit, and even vertebrates. They can travel significant distances each night and get most of their water from their food.

Black Bears

Native to North America, the American Black Bear lives in swamps and desert scrub.

The average lifespan of a wild American black bear is 18 years, though they can live for more than 23 years. The average annual survival rate for adult American black bears varies, ranging from 86% in Florida to 73% in Virginia and North Carolina.

American black bears are crepuscular in foraging activity and eat various plants and animals, though they tend to dig less than brown bears. During the autumn hyperphagia, American black bears become extremely active and may even raid the nut caches of tree squirrels.


Many clever adaptations help camels deal with extreme hot and cold conditions in their desert habitats.

They are famous for their humps, which are used to store fat. Camels have a series of physiological adaptations that allow them to withstand long periods without any external water source. They can drink 200 L of water in three minutes.

They can withstand changes in body temperature and water consumption that kill most other mammals. They can ingest sufficient moisture in milder conditions to maintain their bodies’ hydrated state without drinking.

Cooper’s Hawk

Cooper’s Hawks are found in deserts, forests, and woodland areas. The Cooper’s Hawk is a medium-sized raptorial bird of prey native to North America. 

The Cooper’s hawk nests in cottonwood trees along streams and desert washes. They may reuse nests in successive years, but a new nest is often constructed.

They are medium-sized hawks that can be considered secretive, often perching within the canopy of trees. Its legs and toes are long and moderately thick, and its bill is hooked and well-adapted for tearing prey’s flesh.

Adult males and females of this species are the same color above, with a well-defined crown of blackish-brown feathers above a paler nape and hindneck offset against their streaked rufous cheeks.


A coyote is a member of the dog family, Canidae, and has a rounded, bristly tail. Mountain coyotes have a bushier coat and longer, darker hair, and some have white-tipped tails.

Coyotes live in open grasslands and plains in the desert southwest and will move to wherever food is available.

According to some studies, coyotes occupy only a few square miles (10 to 12) in deserts, valleys, and foothills.

Coyotes prefer fresh meat, but they’ll scavenge when they can. During winter, they eat mostly large ungulate carcasses, and they can cannibalize other coyotes.

Desert Tortoise

The desert tortoise, Gopherus agassizii, is a species of tortoise it’s native to the Mojave and Sonoran Deserts in the southwest.

They live about 50 to 80 years and they live in burrows, rock shelters, and pallets to help regulate their body temperature and conserve water.

They can live in areas with ground temperatures exceeding 60C (140 F) because they can dig burrows and escape the heat.

The desert tortoise is an herbivore that eats grasses, annual wildflowers, and new growth of cacti and their fruit and flowers. It also eats rocks and soil.


The dingo is a wild canine native to Australia. They are similar to wolves in appearance but smaller and stockier. Their diet consists mostly of small mammals like rabbits, kangaroos, wallabies, and birds.

The dingo is a medium-sized canine with a lean, hardy body adapted for speed, agility, and stamina. Its three main coat colorations are light ginger or tan, black and tan, or creamy white.

Dingoes eat anything they can get their hands on, but in the tropical coastal region of the Northern Territory, agile wallabies, dusky rats, and magpie geese make up 80% of their diet.

Dingoes howl in three basic ways (moans, bark-howls, and snuffs). To attract other dogs into the pack, to find other dogs, or to keep intruders away, they howl in chorus with significant pitches.

Great Horned Owl

It can grow up to 2 feet, making it the largest owl in the Sonoran Desert. The great horned owl has a white throat patch, a white streak down the middle of the breast, and a dark brownish color overlaid with blackish blotching. The feet and legs are black, and the bill is gunmetal-gray.

They are found throughout North America, Central America, and South America but is absent from southern Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama, and the mangrove forests of northwestern South America.

The great horned owl’s diet consists of small rodents, such as white-footed mice, which are abundant in the wooded edge habitats frequented by great horned owls.

Gila Monster

The Gila monster is one of the most venomous reptiles in North America. Although it does not threaten humans much, its bite can cause severe pain and swelling.

Gila monsters have scales that contain little pearl-shaped bones, and the belly is free from osteoderms. Females undergo a total shed about 2 weeks before depositing their eggs, and males shed in smaller segments in August.

Their diet consists of small mammals, birds, snakes, lizards, frogs, insects, carrion, and the eggs of birds, lizards, snakes, and tortoises.


Giraffes are the tallest living terrestrial animals and the biggest ruminants on earth. Giraffes usually inhabit savannahs and open woodlands but can also be found in desert environments. They eat around 34 kg (75 lb) of plant matter daily and may chew on large branches, stripping them of bark.

Male giraffes use their necks as weapons in combat, known as “necking”. The fights can last more than half an hour and can result in broken jaws, broken necks, and even deaths.


The black-tailed jackrabbit is a very common hare of the western United States and Mexico, reaching a length of 2 ft (61 cm) and weighing 3 to 6 lb (1.4 to 2.7 kg). It breeds in spring but may continue all year round in warm climates.

They are the largest of California’s hares and live on the east side of the Sierra Nevada, and Cascade ranges from Tulare County north to the Oregon border.

The black-tailed jack has several litters per year and reaches adult size in about 7 or 8 months. It has many natural enemies, including coyotes, bobcats, foxes, horned owls, hawks, and snakes.

King Cobra

A king cobra is a large snake with a yellow, green, brown, or black coloration. Its deadly fangs are almost 0.5 inches (8 to 10 millimeters) long and are fixed to the upper jaw.

A moving person can be seen almost 330 feet away by the king cobra, which has better eyesight than most snakes. Its hiss is like a dog’s growl.

Its forked tongue picks up scent particles and transfers them to a sensory receptor in the roof of its mouth. It flicks its tongue to gauge the prey’s location and swallows its prey whole.

They are an apex predator and dominant over all other snakes except large pythons. It feeds on other snakes, lizards, birds, and small vertebrates and sometimes constricts its prey using its muscular body.

Mountain Lion

The mountain lion is a large cat native to the Americas. It is naturally adaptable and solitary and is the second-largest cat in the New World after the jaguar.

They are ambush predators that hunt deer and rodents. For stalking, it prefers habitats with underbrush and rocky areas, but it also lives in open spaces.

Mountain lions commonly eat large rodents such as the capybara. Birds and small reptiles are occasionally preyed upon, but this is rarely recorded in North America.


The ostrich is the largest living bird, reaching 2.75 meters (about 9 feet) tall and weighing more than 150 kg (330 pounds). Its eggs are the world’s largest, weighing about 1.35 kg (3 pounds).

Ostriches are seen in pairs, small flocks, or large aggregations and can achieve a speed of 72.5 km per hour (40 miles per hour) if frightened.

The ostrich is a flightless bird that is the only living species in the genus Struthio.


The Osprey is one of the most elusive birds in North America. They are large raptor that eats fish. It is brown on the upper parts and greyish on the head and underparts.

The wingtips are black, the body is white with a dark mask across the eyes, and the feet are white with black talons.

They are found in temperate and tropical regions of all continents except Antarctica. It is found in summer throughout Europe, northern Africa, and Australia, and in South and Southeast Asia winters.

A Western Osprey (Pandion haliaetus) will dive into a body of water and catch fish by adjusting the angle of its flight to account for the distortion of the fish’s image caused by refraction.

Plains Bison

The plains bison, also known as the American buffalo, is an even-toed ungulate that evolved from the larger Bison antiquus around 10,000 years ago.

Bison have long, shaggy hair on their heads, necks, shoulders, forelegs, and tails.

The plains bison is a dangerous animal that can run 30 miles per hour and is often seen with its head lowered and tail stiffly upraised.


Scorpions are predatory arachnids with eight legs, a pair of grasping pincers, and narrow, segmented tails. They can be found on all continents except Antarctica, and their exoskeleton contains fluorescent chemicals that glow under ultraviolet light.

Scorpions have adapted to live in deserts, temperate, subtropical, and tropical environments.

Scorpions are opportunistic predators that eat insects, spiders, other arachnids, and small vertebrates such as lizards, snakes, and rodents.

Spiny Mouse

The spiny mouse is a species of rodent in the genus Acomys. It is similar to the common mouse but has stiff guard hairs similar to the spines of a hedgehog.

Cairo spiny mice live in northern and eastern Africa and the Middle East. As an omnivore, it eats insects, spiders, snails, seeds, and plants.

They hide amongst desert plants to keep them hidden from predators. The Cairo spiny mouse is not considered a threatened species. If attacked, it makes its predator pay for its meal with its spiny hairs.

Thorny Devil

The thorny devil is a lizard endemic to Australia that grows up to 21 cm (8.3 in) in length. The thorny devil lizard has been given many names that reflect its appearance, including the devil lizard and the horned lizard.

They grow up to 21 cm (8.3 in) long and have conical spines that are mostly uncalcified. They collect moisture in the desert by the condensation of dew. It also absorbs water from damp sand.


The Arabian wolf is native to the Negev Desert. A desert-adapted subspecies that normally live in small groups is the smallest wolf subspecies. It is omnivorous, eating small to medium-sized prey.

They are small for a wolf and have a thin coat that is usually a grayish beige color. It is distinguished from the Indian wolf by its smaller skull, size, and thinner coat. 

Arabian wolves are carnivorous but also omnivorous and eat almost any small animal, including fish and snails.

Arabian wolves were once found all over the Arabian Peninsula. Some parts of the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt, southern Israel, southern and western Iraq, Oman, Yemen, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia have pockets.


Grevy’s zebras are the largest zebra species and have the largest ears. They have long necks and black and white stripes.

Grevy’s zebras are native to Ethiopia and northern Kenya and are well-adapted to life in dry, semi-arid scrub and grasslands. They can go up to five days without taking a sip of water.

The Grevy’s zebra has black and white striping on its neck and hooves and is unique in that its belly and tail are white.

Links to facts about desert habitats and environments around the world.