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Staying Warm: Cold Desert Animals

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Author: Janice VanCleave

While animals in dry deserts burrow underground to stay cool, burrowing animals in cold deserts do so to avoid the extreme cold. These burrowing animals include badgers, foxes, lizards, and many types of mice. Other animals found in cold deserts include bighorn sheep and jackrabbits. Deer are generally found only in the winter.

Two of the driest places on Earth—the Namib Desert on the southern coast of Africa and the Atacama Desert on the coasts of Chile and Peru—are cold, fog deserts. Darkling beetles in the Namib lie on their backs on top of sand dunes. Water from the fog condenses on the cool abdomens of the beetles and runs down into their mouths. Other animals in fog deserts, such as snakes and lizards, also drink moisture that condenses on their bodies.

Purpose

To show how beetles in fog deserts get water.

Materials

  • 10-ounce (300-mL) transparent plastic cup
  • tap water
  • 3 ice cubes

Procedure

  1. Fill the cup half full with water.
  2. Place the ice in the cup.
  3. Place the cup in a humid area, such as the kitchen or the bathroom.
  4. Allow the cup to sit for 5 to 10 minutes.
  5. Observe the outside of the cup periodically for the presence of water. Note: If the outside of the cup is dry, hold the cup near but not touching your mouth. Then breathe on the outside of the cup.

Cold Desert Animals

Results

The outside of the cup looks cloudy, then tiny drops of water form on its surface. Some of the drops run down the side of the cup.

Why?

The icy water cools the surface of the cup. The air touching the outside of the cup cools, and the water vapor in the air condenses on the cool surface of the cup. At first the drops are so small they make the cup appear cloudy, but as more water collects, the water droplets combine forming drops large enough to see and some heavy enough to slide down the side of the cup. The removal of water from moist air in this experiment is similar to the way fog moving in from the coast condenses on the cool body of a cold fog desert beetle.

More Fun With Animals!

To show how living in a burrow can keep animals warm in the winter, fill a 10-ounce (300 mL) plastic cup about one-fourth full with dirt. Stand a thermometer in the cup, then add more dirt so that the cup is about one-half full. With your fingers, gently press on the soil to pack it around the thermometer. Stand a second thermometer in an empty 10-ounce (300 mL) cup. Allow both cups to sit undisturbed at room temperature for about 5 minutes. Note the temperature on both thermometers. Then sit the two cups in a freezer or outdoors if the temperature is near freezing. After 5 minutes, again read the temperature on the thermometers. Which has cooled more, the cup of soil or the cup of air?

Cold Desert Animals

Book List

  • Bernard, Robin. Deserts. New York: Scholastic Professional Books, 1995. Information and hands-on activities about plants and other desert organisms.
  • Bloom, Susan, and Maggie Ronzani. Geography: Handy Homework Helper. Lincolnwood, Ill.: Publications International, Ltd., 1998. A quick and easy reference guide about geography, including desert biomes.
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