Dune “Buggies” And Other Desert Survivors

Dune “Buggies” And Other Desert Survivors

How do you survive in a hot, dry land of sand? Here are a few creatures that can show you!

Imagine yourself walking in a desert. It might look empty everywhere around you. But look closer. You’ll find a few animals that are experts at beating the heat, traveling on loose sand, and finding scarce water and food.

In a desert, food and water come from surprising places. Bits of dead plants and animals blow in on the wind and feed many tiny creatures. In the scene below, drinkable water arrives as fog. See it rolling in, from the left side of the photo?

Check out the three little “dune buggies” lined up on this sandy ridge. These beetles have climbed up here in the early morning chill. Why? To catch that fog–that precious bit of water–before the sun burns it away. On the next pages, you’ll find out more about how these and other creatures cope in their harsh desert homes.


In the Namib Desert along the southwestern coast of Africa, an early- morning fog rolls in from the ocean. The head-stander beetles below turn their backs to the damp breeze, letting the fog form droplets on their bodies. When a beetle raises its rear, the water trickles to its mouth (right). Slurrrrp, aahhh!



If you go exploring in the desert, don’t forget to carry a canteen! Desert water holes are very few and far between.

A male sandgrouse can turn himself into a living water carrier. This bird of southwestern Africa may fly many miles to find a water hole. He drinks his fill and then lowers his breast feathers into the pool (see photo above).

After his soak, the sandgrouse returns home, with feathers still dripping with fresh water. His chicks gather round to drink–straight from his chest (right).


What’s that little creature with the big, fat cheeks? (below) It’s a banner-tailed kangaroo rat of the American Southwest. It seldom, if ever, drinks. So how does it survive? Its body can make water from the seeds it eats.

The kangaroo rat’s body is also great at saving water. For one thing, its urine isn’t as watery as other animals’ urine. So it doesn’t lose a lot of water when it pees. Plus, it doesn’t pant or sweat to keep cool. That means it doesn’t give off much moisture from its body. To stay comfortable, it rests in its burrow during the heat of day. When the desert cools off at night, the kangaroo rat comes out to scout around for seeds and other plant parts. It fills its cheek pouches and returns to the burrow, storing its stash for later feasting.


SNAP go the jaws of death! What jaws? The long ones on the pale insect in the photo above. That’s a hungry antlion that is just about to latch on to its prey: an ant. The grabby hunter is the larva (young) ofa small flying insect.

Antlions live all over the world, and some kinds live in sandy places. There, they use the loose sand to build traps. Each one digs a funnel- shaped pit in the sand. Then it lies in wait under the sand at the bottom of the pit. Sooner or later, an ant or other small insect tumbles into the pit and can’t get out. The antlion quickly clamps its huge jaws around the victim and sucks it dry.


Why is that spider standing on tiptoes? (small photo at left). To make itself look big and scary! Maybe an enemy, such as a spider wasp, dug it out of its burrow on a dune. What if the enemy isn’t frightened? Then the spider does an amazing thing: It folds up its legs and quickly rolls down the dune to safety! (left) Bet you can see why it’s called a wheel spider.

The wheel spider lives in Africa’s Namib Desert. It hides by day in its burrow. Then at night it hunts for insects and small geckos.



Check out the enormous eyes on the Namib’s web-footed gecko (above). They let the gecko watch for snakes, spiders, and other enemies in the darkness. Now check out those big, frog-like feet. They help the lizard shovel out a burrow for cool daytime shelter.

The lizard also uses its webbed feet to scurry over the loose sand at night, chasing after tasty dune crickets.


Have you ever tried walking in deep sand? It’s hard to keep from sinking or slipping! The side-winding adder of the Namib has a good trick for solving these problems. It loops its body in the direction it wants to go (right).

The sidewinder rattlesnake of the American Southwest moves the same way. Side-winding can also keep a snake from getting scorched, since only two points of its body touch the hot sand at a time. Can you see in this photo where the snake’s body is touching?



Look at the little darkling beetle in the small photo at left. It lives in the Namib Desert of Africa. The yellow pattern on its back is a waxy coating that reflects hot sunlight. (An all-black body would soak up too much heat from the sun.) The insect can also use its long back legs to tilt its body up, away from the hot sand. It can cool off even more by diving beneath the surface.


During the day, the Namib Desert’s surface can be more than 140i F (60i C). Ouch! The shovel-snouted lizard dances to keep from getting burned. First, it lifts a front leg and the opposite back one. Then it switches legs. And once in a while, it flops on its belly and lifts all four legs at once (left). To cool off in a hurry–or to escape danger–it just dives under the sand. Its flat, shovel-like snout and fringed toes help it dig down quickly.

With the right equipment and know-how, these and many other creatures get along just fine in a hot, sandy desert. Could you?

COPYRIGHT 2000 National Wildlife Federation

COPYRIGHT 2002 Gale Group