What is Desert?
A desert is a barren field of landscape where little precipitation occurs and, consequently, living conditions are hostile for plant and animal life. Deserts are filled with mile-long sand dunes. However, not all deserts are like that. Many deserts are rocky with scattered vegetation and shrubs. There are even icy and cold deserts. On this page we will describe hot and dry deserts. You can follow these links to learn more about the frozen polar deserts found in Antarctica and the Arctic.
What makes a desert a Desert?
Deserts are mainly defined by the lack of rain. They typically receive 10 inches or less of rain per year. Deserts are characterized by a general lack of water. They have dry soils, little or no surface water, and high evaporation capacity. They are so dry that sometimes the rain evaporates before reaching the ground!
Hot in the Day, Cold at Night
Because deserts are so dry and humidity is so low, they don’t have any “blankets” to help insulate the ground. As a result, they can get very hot during the day under intense sunlight, but do not retain heat overnight. Many deserts can quickly become chilly as the sun goes down. Some deserts can reach temperatures above 100°F during the day and then drop below freezing (32°F) overnight.
Where are the Major Hot and Dry Deserts?
The largest dry hot desert in the world is the Sahara desert in North Africa. The Sahara is a sand desert with huge sand dunes. It covers more than 3 million square miles of Africa. Other major deserts include the Arabian Desert in the Middle East, the Gobi Desert in northern China and Mongolia, and the Kalahari Desert in Africa. Go here to learn more about the world’s deserts.
How do Animals survive in the Desert?
Animals have adapted to survive in the desert despite the extreme temperatures and lack of water. Many animals are nocturnal. This means they sleep in the heat of the day and come out when it’s cooler at night. These animals also sleep in burrows, underground tunnels during the day to keep cool. Desert animals include meerkat, camels, reptiles such as horned toads, scorpions, and grasshoppers.
Animals living in the desert have also adapted to the need for less water. Many people get all the water they need from the food they eat. Other animals store water that they can use later. Camels store fat in their hump while other animals store fat in their tails.
What plants can live here?
Only certain types of plants can survive in the harsh environment of the desert. These include cacti, grasses, shrubs and some low trees. You won’t see many tall trees in the desert. Most of these plants have a way of storing water in their stems, leaves or stems so that they can survive for a long time without water.
They also tend to grow far apart and have large root systems, allowing them to suck up all the water they can when it rains. Many desert plants are equipped with sharp spikes and needles to protect them from animals.
Because the desert is so dry, the wind will crush the gravel and sand into dust. Occasionally, a large storm will roll this dust into a large storm. Dust storms can be over a mile high and the dust is so thick you can’t breathe. They can also travel more than a thousand kilometers.
Currently, deserts cover about 20% of the world’s area, but they are growing. This is called desertification and it is caused by various factors, including human activities. The Sahara Desert is expanding at a rate of about 30 miles per year.
Facts about the Desert Biome
The giant saguaro cactus can grow up to 50 feet tall and live 200 years.
Plants that store water in their stems are called succulents.
Some desert plants have taproots that grow up to 30 feet deep in search of water.
Elf owls sometimes live inside a cactus during the day, then come out at night to hunt.
The Gobi Desert dust storm is known to reach Beijing, China nearly 1,000 miles away.
Camels can go without water for a week. A thirsty camel can drink 30 gallons of water in less than 15 minutes.