Desert Food Web

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Author: Tricia Edgar

What’s hot and cold and dry all over? It’s the desert! The desert is a place of extremes. In this activity, you’ll build a desert food web and discover what plants and animals can survive in these challenging conditions.

Objective: Create a desert food web.


  • 8½” x 11” square piece of white cardstock paper
  • Colored pencils
  • Pen
  • Ruler
  • Scissors
  • Transparent tape
  • Books about the plants and animals of a desert
  • String
  • Masking tape
  • Push pins
  • Corrugated cardboard

When you think of a desert, what do you see? We often think of deserts as hot, dry places, but we often refer to them as extreme environments because while many are hot, many are cold as well. Deserts receive very little rain, and cover about a third of the earth.

Different deserts have different species of animals and plants, but these animals and plants share certain characteristics. They all need to be comfortable in arid, or dry, climates. Some plants have thick or waxy skin, called a cuticle, that prevents water from moving out of its cells. The mesquite tree is one example of a desert plant. It lives in the southwest United States and Mexico. The tree has small, waxy leaves and a deep taproot that helps draw moisture up from the soil.

Mesquite Tree

In a hot desert, animals either enjoy the heat, or they may choose to come out at night when the desert is much cooler. The pocket mouse lives near the mesquite trees and eats the tree’s seeds. This mouse doesn’t need to drink a lot of water because it gets its water from the seeds that it eats.

Pocket Mouse

The sidewinder rattlesnake likes to eat the pocket mouse.  This snake moves with a sideways motion and lifts much of its body off of the ground as it moves, reducing the amount of its body that has to touch the hot sand.


The red-tailed hawk eats sidewinder rattlesnakes. This hawk is adapted to living in many different environments. It can fly far away to find food and water, and can eat many different kinds of prey animals.

Red Tailed Hawk

Can you think of another desert somewhere else in the world? Look up that desert and see what plants and animals live there.


In this activity, you’ll build a food chain, a food web, and a food pyramid. Let’s learn about what each term means, and how each model is different.

Creating a Food Chain

A food chain is a simple line-up of plants and animals. In a food chain, you begin with one plant. In the desert, this might be a plant that does well in dry areas, such as mesquite. A pocket mouse could come along and eat the seeds from the plant, and a snake such as a sidewinder might eat the mouse.  What eats the snake? A hawk could fly over and snatch up a tasty meal.

  1. To create a food chain, place a foot-long piece of string on the cardboard. Pin it at either end. Create labels that say “mesquite,” “mouse,” “snake,” and “hawk” and add these labels to push pins.
  2. Place the plant pin at one end of the string, followed by the mouse, the snake, and the hawk.
  3. You’ve created a food chain – a simple line that shows how one small plant can feed a mouse, which feeds a snake, which then feeds a hawk.
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