Most desert animals are medium to small in size. However, some larger animals live on the edges of deserts. Elephants are known to live in areas of the Kalahari Desert in southern Africa. These large animals maintain their body heat through their ears. When blood vessels in their ears enlarge, heat from the blood and skin is then released into the air. Lions can also be seen in the Kalahari. However, they only stay there for short periods of time, maybe just to catch a meal, because they are not quite adapted to the desert.
Quite a few of the animals that live in the deserts get water through their food. Roadrunners extract their water from lizards, insects, small snakes, and other animals. Tortoises get their water from cacti and other plants. Lizards obtain their water supply from plants and insects.
The gemsbok, which is a type of oryx, or antelope, roam free in the Kalahari and Namib Deserts. In order to obtain food and water, the gemsbok eats a melon called the tschamma. They dig with their front teeth to find the fruit and its roots under the soil.
Probably the best adapted animal in the desert is the addax, which is a close relative to the oryx. It does not need to drink because it receives enough water to survive from the plants it eats. Scientists believe that the addax has a special lining in its stomach that stores water in pouches to use in times of dehydration.
Storing water is also necessary for the survival of the desert tortoise. It has two water saving cabins under its shell that holds water it gets from the cacti it eats.
Some animals store fat instead of water to survive. The Gila monster and Egyptian spiny tailed lizard save fat in their large tails. When food is unattainable, they live off of this fat and even the moisture it provides.
Conserving energy and water is very important to every animal in the desert. They conserve water by keeping cool. Some animals, like the addax, are active during the coolest times of the day: in the morning, evening, and after dark. During the hottest times of the day, the addax digs a hole with its hooves and lies down in it until the temperature goes down.
Most animals in the desert are light in color. Colors which are light, absorb less heat from the sun than those that are dark. This is why most animals have light skin, fur, scales, or wings.
Finding food and avoiding predators is very important to all animals in the desert. Since most desert animals search for food at night, they must adapt to the night life. An example of this is the numerous species of the desert fox. They will hunt rodents, insects, lizards, and other small creatures. Some of these foxes are the kit fox of North America, the sandfox of Asia, and the bat-eared fox and fennec of Africa. All of these foxes have large ears that get rid of excess heat and provide them with sensitive hearing so that they can catch their prey in the dark.
Deserts foxes, like the bat-eared and fennec fox of Africa, also burrow into the ground. These burrows have several chambers that are lined with vegetation. A whole fox family can live in these chambers. Other animals that use burrows for underground homes are skunks, badgers, and other medium sized mammals.
Birds, like hawks and eagles, however, do not hunt at night. They rely on their keen vision during the day to catch their prey.
Some animals use great defenses to discourage their predators. The tiny kangaroo rat, which is no larger than a few inches (centimeters), has powerful hind legs and feet. Their incredible speed makes them hard to catch. They can cover almost 1,200 feet (366 meters) in a minute. They can even jump and change directions in mid air.
Amazingly, fish also live in the desert. They live in springs and small rivers. In Death Valley National Monument, located in Nevada, a few hundred Devil's Hole pupfish live above a limestone shelf in a spring hole. This spring hole is only 30 square yards (25 square meters) in area. All the pupfish members breed and carry out their whole life in this tiny spring hole. This is the closest known range any vertebrate has ever lived in. Other fish that live in springs and streams are the Moapa dace and the Leon Springs pupfish.