Although at first glance, the desert may seem inhospitable, in reality it is teeming with animals and plants that have adapted to their dry surroundings. Some animals adapt by hiding from the extreme conditions, some by conserving water, and others survive by dissipating heat through evaporation, also known as sweating.
"A desert is defined as a region that receives very little rainfall. It can be hot or cold. There are various types of deserts all around the world, from the harsh elements of the Sahara desert in Africa to the four deserts of the Southwestern United States." From the publishers of the AnimalSpot.com, DesertAnimals.net features seventeen desert animals. Each profile includes basic stats such as diet, habitat, size and description, appropriate for elementary school students but probably not detailed enough for middle-school animal reports.
From Anna's Hummer (a green and red hummingbird) to the White-Winged Dove, the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum provides twenty-eight animal fact sheets, and another ten about desert plants. These are excellent for school reports, and include audio recording and fun facts about each creature. Did you know that javalinas are not pigs, but rather a New World peccary related to swine? Or that kangaroo rats have pouches, but they do not carry their young in them?
There are nearly a hundred animal facts sheets at Desert USA, organized by class: mammals, birds, fish, reptiles, amphibians, insects, and spiders. All include a description and a photo, and many include videos, animal trivia, and links to related articles. "The cottontail's tail functions as an alarm signal. When a rabbit raises its tail, the large white patch of fur on the bottom is exposed, serving as a warning signal to other cottontails."
Digital Desert is the work of photographer Walter Feller, but it is not simply a Mojave desert photo gallery site, it also include gobs of articles about desert life. This section serves as table of contents, and you'll find links to information about Animal Adaptations, Desert Food Chain, Wildlife by Type, and Endangered Species. "Some Mojave animals have developed special physiological structures to enable them to regulate body heat. Mule deer and jackrabbits, for example, have large ears that are densely lined with shallow blood vessels, allowing air to cool their blood as it circulates."
The Living Desert in Palm Desert, California is a specialized zoo dedicated to preserving desert life. You can take a virtual tour with these animal and plant fact sheets, their photo gallery, and exhibit summaries. They also have a section on endangered desert species and cactus rustlers. "Taking desert plants from the wild is illegal, but their sculptural appearance and drought tolerance make them highly desirable. Many grow extremely slowly, so a good sized specimen can be a prized and expensive." Before you leave, be sure to stop by their kids' games page for printable coloring pages and interactive tile sliders.