Deserts cover about one fifth (20 percent) of the earth's land area. The desert is a harsh environment with very little rainfall and extreme temperatures; a desert is defined as a region that gets less than ten inches of precipitation per year. Because of these dry conditions, there is limited plant and animal life in deserts. Desert plants (like cacti) are not abundant; neither is animal life.
Some deserts get both very hot (during the day) and very cold (during the night, when temperatures can drop well below freezing). Some deserts, however, are always cold (for example, the Gobi Desert in Asia, and the desert on the continent of Antarctica).
Different animals live in the different types of deserts. Animals that live in the desert have adaptations to cope with the lack of water, the extreme temperatures, and the shortage of food. To avoid daytime heat, many desert animals are nocturnal; they burrow beneath the surface or hide in the shade during the day, emerging at night to eat. Many desert animals do not have to drink at all; they get all the water they need from their food. Most desert animals are small.
Desert Extremes: The biggest desert is northern Africa's Sahara Desert; it covers roughly 3,500,000 square miles (9,065,000 square kilometers). The driest deserts are the Atacama desert of northern Chile, South America, and the Lut Desert in eastern Iran; these extreme deserts get less than half an inch (about 1 centimeter) of precipitation each year - and it is from condensed fog, and not from rain.
Asian tortoise, gazelle, gerbil, saiga antelope, etc.
Brown skua, penguins, mites, springtails, worms, etc.
bighorn sheep, jack rabbit, pocket mouse, pronghorn antelope, sage thrasher, etc.
Desert activities to print:
Deserts of the World Label the major deserts of the world.
Deserts: Outline Map Printout An outline map of world deserts to print.
Desert Quiz A Worksheet to Print A short, printable worksheet quiz about deserts. The short-answer worksheet asks 14 general questions about deserts, for example, "A desert gets less than ten inches of ______ per year." Or go to the answers.
Draw Four Things You Would See in the Desert Draw four things you would see in a desert. Below each item, write its name.
Some desert animals from around the world:
Desert Animals Book A short book about desert animals to print (for early readers), with letters to fill in. There are pages on the rattlesnake, javelina, coyote, black widow spider, desert tortoise, fennec fox, gila monster, jerboa, pupfish, camel, scorpion, roadrunner, and vulture.
Ant Ants are social insects found worldwide in almost every environment.
Antelope Antelopes are graceful mammals with beautiful horns.
Arabian Camel The Arabian Camel is the one-humped camel (it is also known as the dromedary).
Arabian Horse Arabian Horses are a distinctive and elegant breed of riding horses that were bred by Bedouins thousands of years ago.
Armadillo The armadillo is a small, burrowing, armored mammal.
Bactrian Camel Bactrian Camels are two-humped camels from deserts and steppes of Asia.
Bandicoot Bandicoots are marsupials with pointy snouts.
Bat Bats are the only flying mammal.
Bighorn Sheep The bighorn sheep is a wild brown sheep from mountains and deserts of North America.
Bilby The bilby (also known as the rabbit-eared bandicoot) is a small marsupial with long ears.
Black Widow Spider A very poisonous spider with a distinctive red hourglass marking.
In this lesson, students will learn about many different animals that live in deserts. They will learn what the animals look like and about characteristics that enable them to live in the harsh environment of desert habitats.
Connections to the Curriculum:
Geography, science, language, art
Connections to the National Geography Standards:
Standard 3: "How to analyze the spatial organization of people, places, and environments on Earth's surface"
Standard 4: "The physical and human characteristics of places"
Standard 8: "The characteristics and spatial distribution of ecosystems on Earth's surface"
Two to three hours
Computer with Internet access
Writing and drawing materials
identify desert animals and the characteristics that enable them to adapt to the harsh environment;
draw and/or color pictures of desert animals in their habitats; and
create riddles from information about their animals.
Asking Geographic Questions
Acquiring Geographic Information
Answering Geographic Questions
S u g g e s t e d P r o c e d u r e
Tell students that you will be talking about animals that live in a very harsh environment called a desert. Ask students what they already know about deserts and make a list of their answers. Write down any questions they have about deserts.
Ask students what they think we need to live every day. They should mention food, water, and shelter. Explain that animals that live in the desert sometimes have a hard time finding these things. List the characteristics of desert habitats that make them difficult places to live.
Have students look at the desert animals at the following Web sites:
National Geographic: Creature Feature—Coyotes
Desert Animals and Wildlife
Enchanted Learning: Desert Animal Printouts
eNature.com (type "desert" in the search box)
Missouri Botanical Gardens: Desert Animals
Discuss with the class the different ways these animals get food, water, and shelter in the desert habitat.
Have each student choose one of the animals and draw its picture; younger students can color a printout. The animal should be shown in its desert surroundings, including the types of things it eats and drinks, and where it finds shelter.
Remind the students about the list of questions they had at the beginning of the lesson, before they learned about the desert habitat and the animals that live there. Have all their questions been answered? Add the new facts that students have learned to the list of known facts made at the beginning of the lesson.
Suggested Student Assessment:
Have the students create riddles from descriptive words on the pictures of the animal they chose. Older students can write out their riddles, while younger ones may use their drawings to help them ask their riddles out loud. For example:
I am an animal that lives in the desert.
I have a bulky body.
I have short brown, black, and gray bristly fur.
I have small ears.
I have small eyes.
I have a flat snout.
I have long canine teeth.
I have hoofed feet.
I have short legs.
Who am I?
Display all the animal pictures the students have colored. Have each student read his/her riddle and allow other students to guess which animal the riddle matches.
Extending the Lesson:
Have students create vocabulary lists from their own and other students' riddles.
Create a desert animal book from all the pictures by making a cover and laminating the printouts. Put it in the classroom library.
Have students write stories about their animals.
Use a world map to discuss the different locations of deserts throughout the world
e dHabitats Activity
You will need:
Habitat picture page (Color page or Black and white page)
Box of animal crackers for each child or group
Objective: Students will identify what habitats animals live in.
Give each child (group) a box of animal crackers and a habitat picture page.
Have them sort the animals into the habitats they belong.
Have the students discuss why the animals belong in the habitats they put them in.
Have students compare with another student or group. Discuss differences.
Use reference materials if they are not sure.
Optional Activity. Make a graph with the data presented.
Label the graph with a title.
Label one side of the graph "Number of Animals".
Label the bottom part of the graph "Habitats".
List the habitats.
Count the number of animal cracker animals in each habitat.
esert's climate is very hot and dry. Not many plants and animals can survive, but the ones that do are adapted to the torturous climate. As if the heat were not enough, at night it cools down to very cold temperatures.