The 10 Most Amazing Desert Animals

Written by Heather Ross
Updated: April 16, 2023
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Key Points:

  • The dromedary camel flourishes in very hot, dry climates. Its hump reserves fat, which the camel can use when food and water are scarce. In colder weather, a camel can go for as long as seven months without a drink.
  • The saiga, a member of the antelope family, is an endangered animal that can be found in Russia, Kasakhstan, and Mongolia. It’s famous for its large, Roman nose with nostrils that point toward the ground, helping it cool down the air that enters its nose in the summer, and warm it up in the winter.
  • The Merriam kangaroo rat, found in the southwest United States and Mexico, resembles a kangaroo with its large hind legs that allow it to hop. It prefers stony deserts, though it also flourishes in clay, sand, and gravel deserts.

According to scientists, a desert is a place that gets less than 10 inches of rain every year. However, not all deserts are alike. They can be stony, windblown deserts that are fairly inhospitable to living creatures. They can be deserts that are full of plants, especially ones that have evolved to retain water such as cacti and other succulents. There are hot, sandy deserts called ergs. Much of the Sahara desert is an erg.

There are also temperate deserts that get just enough rain to support woody shrubs but not grasses. Not all deserts are hot, and even Antarctica can be thought of as a sort of desert. Even a hot desert can get surprisingly cool in the evenings. Animals all over the world have evolved to live in these deserts, and here are ten of them.

Infographic of the 10 Most Amazing Desert Animals
The sand cat, known for its thick paw pads that insulate it from scorching sands, is one of the most amazing desert animals.

#10 Dromedary Camel

Amazing Desert Animals: Dromedary Camel

The camel can go for as long as seven months without a drink.

©Benny Marty/

Called The Ship of the Desert, the camel is uniquely built to flourish even in the hottest and driest of deserts. An animal that would very strange if it was not so familiar, the camel has a long, curving neck, a long tail, quite long legs that it can fold neatly under its body when it rests and a coat that comes in shades of brown, cream or sometimes black. Its body is 7.25 to 11 feet long, it stands between 5.6 and 6.6 feet at the shoulder, and it weighs between 990 and 1,210 pounds. Most of all, a well-fed camel has a hump. This hump is used to reserve fat, and the camel uses it when food and water are scarce. Indeed, in cool weather, a camel can go for as long as seven months without a drink.

The hump isn’t the camel’s only defense against the heat and dryness of the desert. It has a small head and ears, and scorching air that enters its nostrils is cooled down and humidified. The animal can also close its nostrils. The animal has thick eyebrows and a double row of eyelashes that protect its eyes from blowing sand. The dromedary, which has been extinct in the wild for about 4,000 years, is found in Saharan Africa and western, southern, and central Asia. Many zoos exhibit dromedaries, including the Brevard Zoo, the San Diego Zoo, and the Louisville Zoo.

#9 Scorpion

Amazing Desert Animals: Scorpion

There are around 2,500 species of scorpions, and 25 have venom powerful enough to kill a human.

©Protasov AN/

The scorpion is an arachnid, somewhat related to spiders. Like the spider, it has eight legs and venom, though the venom is delivered through a stinger in the tail. The tail is segmented and often carried curved over the animal’s body. The first pair of legs end in pincers, and scorpions court by grasping each other’s pincers and the male “dancing” the female over to a sperm packet. Not only this, these amazing animals are fluorescent when exposed to UV light.

Found mostly in the desert, the scorpion is found on every continent save Antarctica. There are about 2,500 species of scorpions, but only about 25 have venom powerful enough to kill a human. Still, these creatures still find themselves prey to other animals such as frogs, snakes, birds, lizards, spiders, and centipedes. Some predators are just immune to their venom while others have learned the trick of tearing off the stinger before eating.

#8 Yucca Moth

Amazing Desert Animals Yucca Moth

The yucca plant and the yucca moth share a mutually beneficial relationship.

©Judy Gallagher / CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons – License

The yucca moth is a small, white moth that helps pollinate the yucca, a plant that grows in the desert. Their color camouflages them against the yucca flower. The yucca and its moth are codependent and can’t survive without each other. Each type of yucca has its own type of yucca moth that pollinates it. The moth either belongs to the Tegeticula or Parategeticula species.

The yucca moth differs from other moths in that it doesn’t have a long, probing tongue. It has feelers around its mouth that don’t help it feed, because the moth doesn’t eat, but helps the females collect pollen. When she has a nice lump of pollen, she goes to another plant. She inspects the flowers there, and if there are no eggs in the ovary, she’ll deposit a few, and add some pollen to the stigma of the flower. This lets the flower produce fruit, which will in turn feed her caterpillars when they hatch.

After the caterpillar has hatched and fed on the fruit and seeds of the yucca, it falls to the ground, digs in, and weaves a cocoon around itself, where it will stay till the next spring or longer. Whenever the new moth emerges, it will be at the same time that the yucca blossoms.

#7 Sidewinder

Amazing Desert Animals: Sidewinder

Sidewinders get their name from their unique form of side-stepping locomotion.

©Roger de Montfort/

Another amazing desert animal is a snake that moves through the sand sideways. Similar to the movement of ocean waves, the snake moves in two waves that are staggered and run from head to tail. While one wave runs vertically, the other moves horizontally, parallel to the ground. The two waves in conjunction help lift the snake’s body and propel it forward.

There are several types of sidewinders. The Peringuey’s desert adder lives in Angola and Namibia and another, the Saharan horned viper, lives in northern Africa, the Levant, and the Arabian peninsula. The Saharan horned viper is between one and two feet long, with females larger than the males. They are known for the horns over their eyes. The colors of their scales match the color of the sand and make them hard to see. They prefer the rockier parts of the desert and can also be found in oases.

Peringuey’s desert adder is smaller than the Saharan horned viper, and the biggest ones are no longer than 13 inches. Like the Saharan snake, its body is colored to help it blend in with the sand, though the tip of the tail is black. This helps to lure prey as it sticks up out of the sand where the snake is hiding.

#6 Roadrunner

Amazing Desert Animals: Roadrunner

The roadrunner can run as fast as 20 miles per hour.

©Dennis W Donohue/

The roadrunner is a type of ground cuckoo and is notable for its swiftness on land. It can run as fast as 20 miles per hour or even faster, but it will fly away if it must. Roadrunners are about 2 feet long from their beak to their tail and weigh about 8 to 15 ounces. They are unmistakable with their crest, their long legs and long tail, and brown, black, and white feathers. The roadrunner is an omnivore and will eat anything it can handle, including rattlesnakes, lizards, snails, smaller birds, and stinging insects such as the tarantula hawk. It runs down its prey and may bash it to death against the ground before eating it.

#5 Saiga

Amazing Desert Animals: Saiga

The saiga’s downward-pointing nostrils help it cool down air entering the animal’s nose in the summer.


This antelope is famous for its large, Roman nose with nostrils that point toward the ground. This positioning helps the animal cool down the air that enters its nose in the summer, and warm it up in the winter. The saiga is critically endangered and found in Russia, Kazakhstan, with a subspecies in western Mongolia. The coat of this animal, which is about 3.25 to 4.5 feet long and weighs between 57 and 150 pounds, is buff. It grows whiter and much thicker during the winter.

Only male saiga have horns, and they are ridged and a bit translucent. The horns of the Russian animals can be as long as 15 inches while those of the Mongolian saiga are shorter. Like wildebeests, they are also famous for their long migrations, which can cross rivers and cover hundreds of miles. Saigas can be seen at the San Diego Zoo.

#4 Antelope Jackrabbit

Amazing Desert Animals: Antelope Jackrabbit

The antelope jackrabbit can jump 10 feet and run at 40 miles per hour.

©Vincent Pro Photo/

The antelope jackrabbit, which is really a hare, lives in the deserts of southern Arizona and the northwest area of Mexico. It prefers areas that have desert shrubs that shade grasses but can also be found in more desolate regions. It is a large hare with gray flanks, a black back, and orange on its chest and neck. It has a white belly and can be about 22 inches long with a 3-inch long tail. It can weigh as much as 9 pounds and has unusually long ears even for a rabbit or a hare. It easts cacti and other plant material and has sometimes been seen eating the soil for minerals.

#3 Tadpole Shrimp

Amazing Desert Animals: Tadpole Shrimp

Fossilized tadpole shrimp that lived millions of years ago look almost exactly like the ones we see today.

©Repina Valeriya/

This animal is tiny compared to the other animals described here, but it is no less amazing. Found in the family Triopsidae, tadpole shrimp have not changed much since the Triassic era, which began about 252 million years ago. They indeed look like tiny trilobites and range from .08 to 3.9 inches long. They are found around the world, and some take advantage of arroyos, which are dry stream beds found in deserts that fill up when it finally rains.

A female lays her eggs in the mud at the bottom of the pool, but if she senses that the pool will soon dry up, she’ll have the eggs go dormant. If there is enough water in the pool, the eggs will hatch, start to molt, and molt a few more times until it is an adult. This only takes a few days, and the tadpole shrimp is by then an adult, ready to lay eggs and start the cycle again.

#2 Merriam’s Kangaroo Rat

Amazing Desert Animals: Merriam’s Kangaroo Rat

The kangaroo rat can survive without ever drinking any water, getting needed moisture from their seed diet.

©Dominic Gentilcore PhD/

The kangaroo rat gets its name because it has big strong hind legs that remind people of a kangaroo, even though they’re not at all related. In addition to its powerful legs that let it hop over the deserts of the southwestern United States and Mexico, the kangaroo rat’s tail is longer than its 4-inch long body and helps balance it. It burrows into the sand to search for food such as seeds of the prickly pear, ocotillo, and mesquite. It caches these seeds in its burrow. The Merriam kangaroo rat prefers stony deserts, though it also flourishes in clay, sand, and gravel deserts.

#1 Sand Cat

Amazing Desert Animals: Sand Cat

Sand cats have thick fur on their paws, which helps to insulate them from the scorching heat.


Like other desert creatures, the sand cat of north Africa and west, central and south Asia has evolved to need very little water. It gets most of its moisture from its food, which consists of smaller mammals such as jerboas, birds, and reptiles. It’s small for a wild cat, with a length of between 18 and 22.5 inches and a weight between 3.25 and 7.75 pounds. It has a sand-colored coat with black stripes on its legs with a red streak that runs from the corner of its eye to its cheek. It is nocturnal and rests in a burrow during the day.

The sand cat can prevail against hot and cold sand and predatory creatures in its environment. Walking on scorching sand is no challenge for the sand cat due to its dense fur and and thick paw pads, which provide an extra layer of protection. These special paws also help them navigate proper foot placement as they traverse the desert plains and dunes in search of food. Opportunistic feeders, sand cats hunt small rodents, spiders, reptiles, and even snakes including venomous vipers.

Summary of the 10 Most Amazing Desert Animals

Here’s a review of desert dwellers we think are absolutely amazing:

RankDesert Animal
1Sand Cat
2Merriam’s Kangaroo Rat
3Tadpole Shrimp
4Antelope Jackrabbit
8Yucca Moth
10Dromedary Camel

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The photo featured at the top of this post is © Mikadun/

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About the Author

Heather Ross is a secondary English teacher and mother of 2 humans, 2 tuxedo cats, and a golden doodle. In between taking the kids to soccer practice and grading papers, she enjoys reading and writing about all the animals!

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