The desert can be a tough place to live, with rare and unpredictable rainfall and temperatures that range from freezing to scorching. But desert animals and plants have adapted to the extreme conditions. Many of them shut down or hide out during the hottest, driest times. Step into our southwestern desert, and find out how life thrives in this extreme place. This exhibit features live animals including desert tortoises, chuckwallas, desert iguanas, bats, packrats, scorpions and more!
See the heat
Use an infrared camera to compare body temperature of different organisms, including real desert tortoises and chuckwallas, with your own body temperature. Notice how the temperature of ectothermic (cold-blooded) animals is much closer to the temperature of their environment than the temperature of endothermic (warm-blooded) organisms like humans.
Saving for dry times
One of the biggest challenges animals face in the desert is surviving without much water. Honey ants have adapted to this extreme condition in an amazing way. Special honey ants in each colony, called repletes, can store nectar inside their bodies. Then when food is scarce, the repletes can cough up nectar to share with other ants. Check out our honey ants and see this crazy adaptation yourself!
Meet the cactus
Find out about the special adaptations cactuses have to help them survive the heat and dryness of the desert. Cactuses can store water in their cells, swell up when they are full of water, keep water in with waxy skin and more. Large cactuses like saguaro provide homes to many desert animals—woodpeckers and owls when the cactuses are alive, and millipedes, centipedes and scorpions when the cactuses die.
Being active at night is a great way to escape the strongest desert heat, so some bats can do well in a desert environment. Visit our bat habitat to see real bats through our night-vision cameras, and learn about the research of a scientist in the Sonoran Desert who worked to uncover the connection between agave plants and bats that drink agave nectar. photo ©Morgan Ball
The desert is a dry place, but when it rains, it can pour! A summer storm can bring most of a year's rain in a single afternoon. Experience the thunderous thrill of a flash flood in our desert exhibit, where floods come every few minutes instead of just once a year.
The Science Center's Work in the Desert
Staff from the California Science Center went on a trip to Texas to collect the bats for our desert exhibit. Find out more about their adventures. photo ©Morgan Ball
The Desert Biome
This page from the University of California Museum of Palentology
gives a brief overview of deserts—not just hot and dry ones, but different kinds of deserts found all over the globe.
Deserts: Geology and Resources
This collection of pages from the United States Geological Survey is taken from a complete book by A.S. Walker that explains what makes a desert, where they form, what shapes them and more. Although the site isn't fancy, it presents a lot of great information, including a list of selected readings on the topic.
Learning about the Sonoran Desert
This site from the Arizona Sonoran Desert Museumoffers links to their amazing resources, including a digital library with over 10,000 images of life and land in the Sonoran Desert region, plant and animal fact pages, bat information, a list of suggested books and more.
About Desert Animals
This site from The Living Desert
zoo and gardens in Palm Desert, California, provides information on all kinds of desert animals, both from our continent and Africa. Explore the rest of the site for videos of desert animals, pictures and descriptions of specific desert plants, and details about the zoo itself in case you want to plan a relatively local desert safari.