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Believe it or not, deserts are not just the hot, dry environments we see in movies with camels and cacti. In fact, some deserts are so cold that the ground stays frozen in ice. Learn about the different kinds of deserts and how plant and animal life survive in these extreme ecosystems.

What Defines a Desert?

Deserts are areas of land that are arid, or dry, and get less than 10 inches of rain per year.

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These areas can be covered by sand, rock, snow, and even ice. Additionally, they do not have a lot of plant life covering the land.Deserts’ ecosystems cover approximately 25% – 30% of the land on Earth. An ecosystem includes all the life in a particular environment or location. Deserts can be divided into two main types: hot and cold.

Hot Deserts

Hot deserts are warm year round and very hot in the summer. During the day, temperatures often reach over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. In the evening, the temperatures drop sometimes below freezing. Much of the time rain does not fall, but when it does, it is only for a short amount of time.

The ground is usually rocky or sandy.Most of the hot deserts in the world are located just north and south of the equator, where it is the hottest. The largest hot desert is the Sahara Desert in northern Africa. The Sahara covers over 3 million square miles and has some areas that receive no rainfall for years. Other well-known hot deserts include the Arabian, Mohave, and Sonoran deserts.

Pink Coral Sand Dunes National Park in Utah is a small desert surrounded by a forest.
Antarctica is a desert, but there are no camels or sand dunes.

antarctica

Plant and Animal Life

Plants and animals have adaptations that allow them to survive dry land and extreme temperatures of the desert. Adaptations are special characteristics that help plants and animals survive in an environment.Desert plants have to adapt to the lack of rainfall. Most desert plants grow low to the ground and have roots that do not grow deep into the ground, but spread out.

This allows them to quickly soak up the rain when it falls to the ground. Plants like the cactus also store water in their stems and are prickly. These spines help keep animals from chewing on the plant, which would cause the plant to lose water.Animals in deserts also adapt to the environment in a variety of ways. Animals in hot deserts, such as kangaroo rats and snakes, burrow underground during the day to avoid the heat. Then these nocturnal animals – or animals who are more active at night – gather food and hunt when the temperatures are cooler.

Some animals, like the camel and its hump filled with fat, are able to go weeks without food or water after storing it in their bodies. In cold deserts, animals frequently have thick fur or an extra layer of fat to keep them warm.

A cactus with a flower in the Sonoran desert in Arizona. They only bloom occasionally.
Do dunes, but they can also be
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