Life in the Desert
Since tall trees are rare in the desert, canopy in deserts is very hard to find. Plants in the desert are mainly ground-hugging shrubs and short trees. Their leaves are nutrient-rich with water-saving features. The plants are usually small, thick and covered with a thick layer of plant cells. In the cacti, the leaves are reduced to stems and photosynthetic activity is restricted to these stems. Some plants open microscopic holes in the leaves that perform gas exchange only at night when evaporation rates are low. Some plants like this are: yuccas, ocotillo, turpentine bush, prickly pears, false mesquite, Sotol, Ephedras, cacti, Agave and brittle bush.
Some animals that live in the desert include small nocturnal carnivores. The animals stay resting in protected hideaways during the hot day to keep cool and then come out to feed at dusk, dawn or at night, when the desert is cooler. The most common animals are burrowers such as toads, rats, insects, and kangaroo rats. There are also many insects, spiders, reptiles and birds. Other animals include mammals, such as meerkats and large cats, such as caricals, and birds such as ostriches and vultures. Also, there are amphibians such as toads and frogs. Most life in the desert has adapted to conserve energy in order to survive in the hot climate.
False Mesquite is a low, densely branched South Texas shrub usually 1-3 cm tall. False Mesquite resembles some of the Mimosa species but is separated from them by its lack of spines. False Mesquite is locally abundant on caliche and limestone soils in the Trans-Pecos, Edwards Plateau, and Rio Grande Plains. Most concentrations of False Mesquite are browsed heavily by cattle and white-tailed deer. This plant prefers dry rocky soils of pinion-juniper ranges and oak woodlands in elevations from about 4000 to 9000 feet. To distinguish from other species like Fairy Duster, this plant does not have thorns, and when touched, the leaves fold up for several minutes before opening again. More telltale signs are the red stems and leaves being edged in red. Pods form after the flowers fade.
A cactus is a water conserving plant that, when it rains, absorbs as much water as it can, and uses it sparingly. Cacti have evolved to use low amounts of water in order to survive in the desert. Cacti also have reduced leaves so that they can defend themselves from animals that want to eat them. These spikes also have microscopic holes that perform photosynthesis at night when evaporation rates are lower. Cacti are not active plants, therefore making it easier to conserve water, since it does not require that much.
Usually found in Mexico's deserts, agaves are also native to the southern and western United States and central and tropical South America. They are succulents with a large rosette of thick, fleshy leaves, each ending generally in a sharp point and with a spiny margin; the stem is usually short, the leaves coming out of from the root. Along with plants from the related genus Yucca, various Agave species are popular ornamental plants. Agave are important to the desert because their juices are composed of healing oils. When animals eat this, it helps them fight disease while satisfying their hunger. Agaves have adapted like cacti; they use low amounts of water to survive in the harsh climate of the desert.
The desert tortoise lives for about 30 to 50 years. These animals grow slowly and usually have low reproductive rates, meaning they only have 2-4 babies. They spend most of time in burrows, under rocks, and under sand to maintain body temperature and conserve water. They are most active after seasonal rains and are inactive during most of the year. This inactivity helps reducing water loss during hot periods, whereas winter hibernation facilitates survival during freezing temperatures and low food availability.
Turkey Vultures range from southern Canada to the southernmost tip of South America. It inhabits a variety of open and semi-open areas, including subtropical forests, shrub lands, pastures, and deserts. The Turkey Vulture is a scavenger and feeds almost exclusively on carrion. It finds its food using its keen eyes and sense of smell, flying low enough to detect the gases produced by the beginnings of the process of decay in dead animals. In flight, it uses thermals to move through the air, flapping its wings infrequently. It roosts in large community groups. The Turkey Vulture is a scavenger and feeds almost exclusively on carrion. It finds its food using its keen eyes and sense of smell, flying low enough to detect the gases produced by the beginnings of the process of decay in dead animals.
The meerkat is a member of the mongoose family. Meerkats live in the southern end of Africa and are found in the desert. Meerkats live in groups to protect themselves. These groups often consist of 10-20 members per group. However, some meerkat families are huge, containing up to 50 members. These families are also called mobs or clans. In these clans, several meerkats act as guards and warn the rest of the clan when a predator is coming. This is how meerkats are able to survive in the desert. Meerkats have thick fur to block out the heat and maintain their low body temperatures.
The desert tarantula’s species is called the Aphonopelma Chalcodes. Their diet is lizards, crickets, beetles, grasshoppers, cicadas and caterpillars. They grow to be 3-10 in. long. Their legs can grow to 6 in. long. They are important to the desert because they limit the population of the insects that live in the desert. To survive in the desert they cover the opining of their burrow with silk to keep moisture inside.
The desert foxes species is called the Fennec Fox. Their diet is rodents, insects, birds, eggs, fruit, snakes and rabbits. They are important to the desert because they limit the population of the snakes and the rodents. They can go years without drinking, but will drink when water is available.The Fennec fox or Fennec is a small nocturnal fox found in the Sahara of North Africa. Its most distinctive feature is its unusually large ears, which serve to dissipate heat. Its name comes from the Arabic word fanak, which means fox, and the species name zerda comes from the Greek word xeros which means dry, referring to the fox's habitat. The Fennec is the smallest species of canid in the world. Its coat, ears, and kidney functions have adapted to high-temperature, low-water, and desert environments. In addition, its hearing is sensitive enough to hear prey moving underground. It mainly eats insects, small mammals, and birds.
The giant desert hairy scorpion it the biggest type of scorpion in North America. They are found in the Mojave desert in Nevada. This scorpion usually hides under wet rocks to stay cool during the day. At night, it hunts and eats insects, spiders, and small reptiles and mammals. This scorpion is aggressive and its babies stay on its back for a week after birth to stay safe. The venom of this scorpion is not very strong, it is about the same potency as a honeybee sting. They are important to the desert in that they control the population of smaller insects and animals, and they provide food for larger animals in order to maintain balance in the food chain.