Some of the largest deserts in the world

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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.

Some of the largest deserts in the world:

Type of Desert

Name of Deserts



Hot Desert

Great Sandy Desert, Great Victoria, Simpson, Gibson, Tanami


bilby, dingo, kangaroo, marsupial mole, quokka, rabbit-eared bandicoot, etc.

Hot Desert

Arabian Desert

Arabian Peninsula

dromedary, dung beetle, camel, civet, Egyptian vulture, flamingo, fox, gazelle, hare, hedgehog, Arabian horse, hyena, ibex, jackal, jerboa, lesser bustard, lizard, locust, oryx, peregrine falcon, porcupine, sand cobra, scorpion, skink, veiled chameleon, viper, etc.

Hot Desert


Mexico/S.W. USA

big free-tailed bat, coyote, diamondback rattlesnake, kangaroo rat, roadrunner, vampire bat, etc.

Hot Desert


S.W. Africa

gazelle, gerbil, ground squirrel, hyena, jackal, meerkat, springbok, etc.

Hot Desert



bighorn sheep, coyote, desert tortoise, jack rabbit, pupfish, sidewinder, etc.

Hot Desert


Argentina, South America

armadillo, cavy, jaguarundi, puma,tinamou, tuco-tuco, etc.

Hot Desert


North Africa

addax antelope, barn owls, cape hare, dama deer, desert hedgehog, dorcas gazelle, fan-tailed raven, Fennec fox, gerbil, horned viper, jackal, jerboa, mouse, Nubian bustard, ostrich, sand fox, shrew, slender mongoose, spiny-tailed lizard, spotted hyena, etc.

Hot Desert


S.W. USA, Mexico

barn owl, big free-tailed bat, black widow spider, bobcat, chuckwallas, coati, collared peccary, desert iguana, desert tortoise, dragonfly, elf owl, gila monster, kangaroo rat, pack rat, Mexican gray wolf, mule deer, pupfish, rattlesnake, red-tailed hawk, roadrunner, scorpion, sidewinder, tarantula, turkey vulture, wild burros, etc.

Hot Desert


Indian, Pakistan

dromedary, great Indian bustard, Indian spiny-tailed lizard, jackal, sandgrouse, etc.

Coastal Desert


Peru, Chile

llama, Peruvian fox, etc.

Cold and Hot Desert


China, Mongolia

Bactrian camel, beetles, blue hill pigeon, desert wheatear, gazelle, gecko, Mongolian gerbil, jerboa, Gobi bear, jerboa, lizards, onager, Pallas cat, Pallas sandgrouse, Przewalski horse, short-toed larks, snow leopard, wild mountain sheep, wolf, etc.

Cold and Hot Desert


Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan

monitor lizard, onager, oryx, scorpion, etc.

Cold and Hot Desert


S. W. Africa

fringe-toed lizard, golden mole, jackal, sidewinder, viper, web-footed gecko, etc.

Cold and Hot Desert

Takla Makan

W. China

Bactrian camel, jerboa, long-eared hedgehog, gazelle, etc.

Cold Desert


Argentina, South America

guanaco, lesser rhea, mara, pygmy armadillo, tuco-tuco, Patagonian weasel, foxes, puma, hawks, eagles, etc.

Cold Desert


Middle East

Asian tortoise, gazelle, gerbil, saiga antelope, etc.

Cold Desert

Antarctic Desert


Brown skua, penguins, mites, springtails, worms, etc.

Semi-arid Desert

Great Basin


bighorn sheep, jack rabbit, pocket mouse, pronghorn antelope, sage thrasher, etc.

Desert activities to print:

desert map to label

Deserts of the World
Label the major deserts of the world.

desert outlinemap

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

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.

Ants are social insects found worldwide in almost every environment.

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.

The armadillo is a small, burrowing, armored mammal.

Bactrian Camel
Bactrian Camels are two-humped camels from deserts and steppes of Asia.

Bandicoots are marsupials with pointy snouts.

Bats are the only flying mammal.

Bighorn Sheep
The bighorn sheep is a wild brown sheep from mountains and deserts of North America.

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.

Blue-tongued Skink
An Australian lizard with a long, blue tongue.
Boa Constrictor
A large constricting snake from South and Central America.

A fierce, short-tailed wild cat from North America.
California Quail
The California Quail (also known as the Valley Quail) is a plump bird with a forward-facing head plume.

Camels are large mammals that live in dry areas.

Collared Peccary
A pig-like mammal, also known as the javelina, from deserts and chaparrals of North and Central America.
Coyotes are meat-eaters related to wolves.

The deer is a shy, fast-moving plant-eater.

Desert Tortoise
A tortoise from southwestern North America.

The dingo is a wild dog from Australia.

Donkeys are hoofed mammals adapted to desert life.

The dragonfly is a flying insect with a long abdomen.

The dromedary is the one-humped camel (also known as the Arabian Camel).

The eagle is a large bird of prey.

Fennec Fox
The Fennec fox is a small, desert fox with very large ears; it lives in the Sahara and in northern Saudi Arabia.

The flamingo is a long-legged bird that eats crustaceans. Flamingos live in a variety of habitats, including warm coastal areas, high, snowy mountains, and near alkali lakes in deserts.

The fox is a meat-eating mammal with a long, bushy tail.

Gazelles live in herds in Africa.

Geckos are the only lizards that make noise. Many geckos live in desert.

The gerbil is a small, long-tailed rodent that is native to dry, sandy areas of Africa and Asia.

Gila Monster
A venomous lizard from deserts of southwestern North America.

Goats are sure-footed, hoofed mammals.

Gray Wolf
Gray wolves are carnivores that live in packs and howl.

Great Horned Owl
A large bird of prey from North and South America.

Hedgehogs are small mammals that can roll into a prickly ball.

Iguanas are plant-eating lizards.

Jack Rabbit
Jack rabbits are hares; they have very long legs and long ears.

A pig-like mammal, also known as the collared peccary, from deserts and chaparrals of North and Central America.

The jerboa is a small, long-tailed rodent that hops.

Kangaroos hop and have pouches. Their babies are called joeys.

Kangaroo Rat
A small rodent from North America.

Llama are woolly mammals from South America.

Mongooses are sleek, meat-eating mammals.

Mice are small rodents with long, scaly tails.


A small wallaby from northern Australia.

North American Porcupine
The North American Porcupine is a mammals that has protective, needle-like quills on its body.


Oryx are long-horned antelopes from dry areas in Africa.

The ostrich is the largest bird. It can't fly, but it runs very fast.

Owls are nocturnal hunters with eyes that face forwards.

Peregrine Falcon
The fastest flyers, who prey upon other birds.

Pikas are small, furry mammals who stockpile food for winter.

Porcupines are mammals with protective, needle-like quills on their body.

Pronghorns are the fastest moving mammals in North America. The Sonoran Pronghorn lives in semi-desert areas.

A long-tailed wild cat with no spots. It is also known as the catamount, panther, mountain lion, and cougar.

A small fish from desert waters of southwestern North America.

The Quokka is a marsupial from Australia, a type of wallaby.

A fast-moving mammal with long ears.

Rabbit-eared Bandicoot
Also known as the bilby, this small Australian marsupial has long ears.

Rattlesnakes are venomous snakes that have a rattle at the end of the tail.

Red Fox
The Red Fox is a meat-eating mammal with a long, bushy tail.

Red Kangaroo
Red Kangaroos are large roos from Australia.

Red-Tailed Hawk
The Red-Tailed Hawk is a bird of prey, a raptor from North America.

Also known as the Ground Cuckoo, this bird is a fast runner that rarely flies.

A venomous arachnid with a large stinger on its tail. Found worldwide except in Antarctica.

A long-legged African wild cat.

Sheep are mammals with thick, furry fur and hoofed feet.

Shrews are tiny mammals that are quite ferocious.

Snow Leopard
Snow Leopards are rare, pale leopards from the snowy central mountains of Asia.

Spiders have eight legs.

Suricates (also known as meerkats) are a type of mongoose that can stand upright.

A tarantula is a large, hairy spider.
Valley Quail
The Valley Quail (also known as the California Quail) is a plump bird with a forward-facing head plume.

Vampire Bat
Vampire bats are the only bats that drink blood.

Veiled Chameleon
A chameleon with a helmet-like casque on its head.

The vulture is a large bird with a bald head. Vultures eat carrion.


Wallabies are small to medium-sized kangaroos.

White-Tailed Deer
The white-tailed deer is a shy, fast-moving plant-eater.

An Enchanted Learning Web Page
Biomes - Habitats

ThWho Am I?


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

Materials Required:

  • Computer with Internet access

  • Writing and drawing materials


Students will

  • 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.

Geographic Skills:

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 (type "desert" in the search box)
Missouri Botanical Gardens: Desert Animals

Read aloud some of the descriptions of the animals you see, paraphrasing the advanced language, as necessary.

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:

  1. Habitat picture page  (Color page  or  Black and white page)

  2. Box of animal crackers for each child or group

Objective: Students will identify what habitats animals live in.


  1. Give each child (group) a box of animal crackers and a habitat picture page.

  2. Have them sort the animals into the habitats they belong.

  3. Have the students discuss why the animals belong in the habitats they put them in.

  4. Have students compare with another student or group.  Discuss differences.

  5. Use reference materials if they are not sure.

Optional Activity. Make a graph with the data presented. 

  1. Label the graph with a title.

  2. Label one side of the graph "Number of Animals".

  3. Label the bottom part of the graph "Habitats".

  4. List the habitats.

  5. Count the number of animal cracker animals in each habitat.

  6. Record on the graph.

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.

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