The Sahara desert is the third-largest desert in the world (after the Arctic and Antarctic) and the largest hot desert in the world. It stretches across 3.6 million square miles making its size comparable to that of the entire United States (which spans across 3.8 million miles). The name Sahara itself literally translates to “the Greatest Desert”. This desert is known for its warm and dry climates, which restricts cloud formation and makes rainfall extremely scarce. The grounds are laden with endless mounds of sand seemingly designed to scald the feet while sources of water are few and far between.
While humans dwell in cities and villages to protect themselves from the elements, natural selection in animals works slightly differently. These 10 animals reside in the Sahara desert and have developed unique features that make them adapt and thrive in an environment so hostile no living thing should be able to.
1. Addax Antelope
(By Haytem93, Wikimedia Commons)
The Addax Antelope is an endangered species and possibly the antelope species most well-adapted for surviving in the desert. They feed exclusively on grass, roots and plant parts, and can be identified by their short legs, wide hooves and the stunning twisted horns on their heads.
These antelopes are only active during the cooler hours of the day, early in the mornings and evenings. This is to avoid moving around in search of food or water in the hotter parts of the day, the latter of which is easier to find during the cool hours.
The color of their coats changes with the seasons, turning white in the summer to reflect the Sun’s hot rays and gray in the winter to keep their bodies warm. This allows them to effectively stabilize their body temperature. Their hooves are wide and flat to enable them to walk easily on the hot sand.
2. Dorcas Gazelle
(By Altaipanther, Wikimedia Commons)
This galloping gazelle is a small and endangered species of antelope that is well-adjusted to life in the desert and can be found all across the Sahara. Their primary diet consists of carefully selected plants, high in moisture content, with a preference towards pods of the Acacia tree.
The moisture absorbed by consuming these plants is enough to sustain these long-legged creatures for long periods of time without water. They can also tolerate extreme levels of heat. Much like the Addax antelope, these gazelles choose to be active in the early mornings and evenings, though only during the hot summer season.
Their movements are also determined by the predators they encounter. To avoid human hunters spotted nearby, they often choose to move at night. They can run up to 50 miles per hour and make tall leaps to escape any threats.
3. Fennec Fox
(By Jpogi, Wikimedia Commons)
This adorable little fox, the smallest of its kind, grows approximately a foot long at most and weighs no more than 2-3 pounds. It resides in the drier regions of the Sahara desert and can be easily identified by its long ears that grow up to 6 inches in length.
These long ears are an adaptation to help them survive in the harsh conditions. Using their ears, fennec foxes hear predators and other threats nearby, keeping them alert and wary of oncoming danger. Their ears also help by expelling excess heat from their bodies, allowing them to remain cool even on hotter days.
Their kidneys are adapted to survive long stretches without water and, like the Dorcas gazelle, they can survive on the moisture of their food. Their beautiful thick sand-colored fur can be found even on their paws, making it easier to walk on the hot sand, as well as stay insulated from both heat and cold.
4. Desert Monitor
(By Hatem Moushir, Wikimedia Commons)
This massive lizard can also be found in the Arabian desert and drier regions of Central Asia, as well as the Sahara desert. These creatures are perfectly suited for desert conditions and their skin allows them to thrive in the heat. They prey on insects, birds and small mammals, and hibernate during winter to conserve energy.
Unlike the desert-dwelling antelopes, desert monitors are active during the days and can easily endure the heat. They are equipped with salt glands that retain moisture well, allowing them to survive without water for long periods of time.
Desert monitors are incredible predators, moving through the heat and sand across great distances at a rapid speed of 20 miles per hour. They share a common feature with snakes, i.e., a forked tongue, which allows them to sense chemicals in the air to detect their prey.
(By Diego Delso, Wikimedia Commons)
Ostriches can be found in savannas across desert regions of West Africa and Central Africa. Growing upwards of 8 feet and up to 250 pounds, they are the largest and heaviest bird in the world. Their diet consists largely of insects, rodents, and lizards in addition to certain plants.
They have two-toed feet, which makes traveling across heavy sand dunes easier. Their water needs are minimal, as they retain most of the moisture from the plants they consume. This also allows them to survive even in the hottest temperatures.
As a flightless bird, they are often preyed upon by other carnivorous desert-dwellers like the Golden Jackal (No.7 on this list). Their long necks aid them in detecting oncoming predators from a distance. They also have immensely strong long legs that allow them to move up to 45 miles per hour, outrunning predators or wield powerful defensive kicks.
6. Deathstalker Scorpion
(By Anatolii Kokoza, Wikimedia Commons)
This ominously named arachnid is a formidable beast indeed and lives in hot deserts like the Sahara along with scrublands in the Middle East and North Africa. Their sting is extremely painful, and their venom, while not lethal to the healthy adult human, can cause paralysis. These scorpions feed on insects, spiders, small animals like mice and even other scorpions.
Their small size allows them to hide from the heat under small rocks and in small cracks and burrows. They come out only at night to hunt. These scorpions require water on a semi-regular basis, but can largely survive on water absorbed through their food.
This brings us to one especially unique feature these creatures have adapted to survive in the desert. They have a self-regulating metabolism, so in parts of the desert where food is scarce, the scorpion’s metabolism adjusts to survive as long as a year with minimal food. Food consumed by this scorpion plays a big role in hydration.