Australian Desert Animals

Australian desert animals are clever survivors.

Australia is a very dry continent with 2/3 of its landmass being deserts or semi deserts. But those areas are not lifeless.

As well as Australian desert plants, the animals of dry regions have clever adaptations that help them survive in this harsh environment.

An Aerial View of a Herd of Camels in Australias Simpson Desert
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Australian Desert Animals: Reptiles
Reptiles are ectothermic (cool-blooded animals) and they thrive in deserts because living in temperate or colder regions, they have difficulties to keep up their body heat. In Australian deserts, there is a large number of snakes, for example Stimson’s Python (Antaresia stimsoni), Woma (Aspidites ramsayi), Blind Snake, Desert Death Adder (Acanthophis pyrrhus), Yellow-faced Whipsnake (Demansia psammophis), King Brown Snake (Pseudechis australis), Ringed Brown Snake (Pseudonaja modesta), Western Brown Snake (Pseudonaja nuchalis) and Myall Snake (Suta Suta). Other reptiles found in Australian deserts are Thorny Devil (Moloch horridus), Bearded Dragon (Pogona sp.), Pygmy Mulga Monitor (Varanus gilleni), Central Netted Dragon (Ctenophorus Nuchalis) and a countless number of other lizards.

Moloch or Thorny Devil (Moloch Horridus) Portrait, Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, Australia
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Australian Desert Animals: Small Mammals

Most of the desert mammals are small. Being small, they can burrow holes and get shelter from the heat easier than larger animals. Most of them rest in their burrows during the midday heat, and go out during the night when it’s cool. Small mammals in Australian deserts include Spinifex Hopping Mouse (Notomys alexis), Bilby (Macrotis lagotis), Western Pygmy Possum (Cercatetus concinnus), Wongai Ningaui (Ningaui ridei), Kultarr (Antechinomys laniger), the endangered Mulgara (Dasycercus cristicauda) and Fat-tailed Dunnart (Sminthopsis crassicaudata). Because fat increases body heat, many desert animals store their fat in tail, instead of body. Another adaptation to decrease body heat is having big ears, like in bilby. In Australian deserts, there are also the White-striped Mastiff Bat (Talarida australis), and the Short-beaked echidna (Tachyglossus aculeatus) – an animal that has adapted to every single habitat in Australia, from hot deserts to cold snowy mountains.

Camels, Central Desert, Northern Territory, Australia
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Australian Desert Animals: Large Mammals
Not many large mammals are living in deserts. It is because they are too large to make burrows to escape the heat. They have to have a very good thermoregulation and they have to be able to storage water or go without water for long periods in order to be able to survive. An advantage compared to small animals is, that being bigger, they can move around on larger areas to find water. Some of the large Australian desert animals are Red kangaroos (Macropus rufus), dingos (Canis lupus dingo) and feral camels (Camelus sp.). Camels are able to store large amounts of water so they can go without drinking water for long periods. Red kangaroos concentrate their urine to minimise water loss. They are also inactive and lay in shade during the midday heat, grazing mostly in dusk and dawn. Hopping also saves them energy. Hopping is a much more energy efficient way to get around than is walking or running.

Emu Running Through the Pinnacles, Pinnacles Desert, Australia
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Australian Desert Birds

There are also many birds in Australian deserts. Birds can cope with heat easier than animals. They are endothermic like mammals, but they can tolerate heat better because (1) their normal body temperature is higher than this of mammals (more than 40°C); and (2) because they fly. Even though not many birds are nocturnal and they often fly in the sunshine, they don’t get as easily overheated as do animals because the air is as hottest on the ground and cooler higher up where they fly. Flying is also much quicker than running or walking, so they can quickly fly to water bodies for a dip or a drink. Flightless birds are either nocturnal or large. Being large means having less surface per body mass (surface is where the heat gets into the body but not necessarily out); and being able to travel large distances, like Australian emus that move around in large flocks following rains and avoiding drought. Some other birds in Australian deserts are many species of parrots and cockatoos, owls and birds of prey, however they do rely on some water sources in flying distance, and they tend to avoid the driest deserts like the waterless plains of inland Western Australia.

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