What animals live in the Sahara Desert?
The Sahara Desert is generally imagined as a vast expanse of sandy, parched, lifeless landscape with scattered nomadic tribes and their domesticated camels. However, the Sahara holds much more life than that. It occupies an area of 9,400,000 km² comparable to the size of the United States. It stretches across much of North Africa, covering around 31% of the African landmass. It is therefore the largest hot desert in the world.
The Sahara Desert is home to an incredible variety of species well adapted to survive in the desert climate. 70 species of mammals, 90 species of birds, 100 species of reptiles and several species of spiders, scorpions and other smaller life forms, have made their home in the Sahara Desert. Besides the dromedary camel and goats, the desert is home to the much feared deathstalker scorpion, the extremely poisonous sand viper, the elegant and ferocious cheetah, the graceful gazelles, the swift-footed red-necked ostrich and other unique and magnificent.
Here on our list of “What Animals Live in the Sahara Desert?” we present to you some of the most emblematic species of the Sahara Desert.
A species of poisonous snake, the viper Viper cerastes lives in the Sahara desert. Snakes are about 8 to 35 cm in length and have large, triangular heads and tiny eyes. The potent hemotoxin produced by this viper kills its prey almost immediately. Small mammals, birds and lizards are their usual prey. Another species of poisonous viper, the Cerastes cerastes also lives in the Sahara. The presence of a pair of supraocular “horns” makes it easy to distinguish this species of viper from others.
Saharan silver ant
A unique animal, the silver ant of the Sahara (Cataglyphis bombycina), only stays active for 10 minutes a day. These creatures have longer legs than other ants and produce heat shock proteins before they emerge from their burrows. Both of these adaptations help them survive the extreme heat of the desert.
The Deathstalker scorpion (Leiurus quinquestriatus) is the most poisonous species of scorpion in the world. It produces a deadly cocktail of neurotoxins that could trigger excruciating pain in an adult human when bitten by this scorpion. Children, the elderly and socks are also at risk of dying from envenomation in extreme cases of deadly stalker bites.
When we talk about “What animals live in the Sahara desert? we hardly think of crocodiles. However, the West African crocodile (Crocodylus suchus) inhabits parts of the desert habitat where it remains in a state of aestivation during periods of drought, hidden in the safety of caves and burrows. During the rainy season, the crocodiles come out of their shelter and congregate in the gueltas.
Monitor the lizards
The Desert Monitor (Varanus griseus) is a species of carnivorous lizard found in the Sahara Desert. This animal is a cold blooded creature and therefore goes into hibernation from September to April. Lizards are up to 1-2 meters in length and have an average lifespan of around eight years in the wild. The Desert Monitor Lizard feeds primarily on rodents, fish, and eggs, but it can also feed on birds, small mammals, and other creatures if given the opportunity.
The Black-faced Firefinch (Lagonosticta larvata) is a common bird belonging to the family of African estrildes. This species can be observed in many countries of sub-Saharan Africa. Currently, the bird is classified as Least Concern due to its wide range. However, populations of this bird are believed to be steadily declining.
African silver beak
The African silver beak (Cantans Euodice) is a bird that lives in arid landscapes. It is a resident bird of the dry savannah regions of Africa bordering the Sahara Desert. The African silver beak is a sociable bird that perches on top of trees in large groups often huddled together for long periods of time. They feed on the seeds of grasses and the seeds of growing plants.
Red necked ostrich
The North African ostrich (Struthio camelus camelus) is the largest living bird in the world. It grows to about 9 feet long, has a pinkish-red neck, black / white plumage in males, and gray plumage in females. Hunting for food, capture for agriculture, loss of habitat, etc., have led to the rapid decline in the population of this ostrich. The species is now found in only 6 of the 18 countries where it once existed.
Small, stocky herbivorous mammals, the rock hyrax (Procavia capensis) is found throughout sub-Saharan Africa. These animals usually take shelter in rock crevices and emerge from them when foraging. They live in large groups of 10 to 80 animals and feed together.
African wild dog
Endangered species, the African wild dog (Lycaon pictus) is from sub-Saharan Africa. Today, there are only 39 subpopulations of this canine species consisting of 6,600 adults. Outbreaks of infectious diseases, human persecution and habitat destruction are responsible for the decline of African wild dog populations. These animals are very social, living and hunting in large packs. Uniquely, it is the females of this species that leave the pack at sexual maturity instead of the males. Antelopes are their main prey.
Gazelles (Dorcas Gazelle, Rhim Gazelle, Dama Gazelle)
The dorcas gazelle (Gazella dorcas), a small species of gazelle, inhabit the Sahara Desert and surrounding grasslands. Designated as vulnerable by the IUCN, only 35,000 to 40,000 of these animals exist today. The dorcas gazelle is well adapted to life in the desert. He can go without drinking for his entire life, but when water is available he drinks water. These gazelles are active between dusk and dawn when feeding on the leaves, fruits, twigs and flowers of desert vegetation.
With less than 2,500 individuals of the rhyme gazelle (Leptoceros gazelle) left in the wild, this species has been declared endangered by the IUCN. They are well adapted to survive the extremes of the desert habitat in which they live. These gazelles have a pale coat color that reflects sunlight and enlarged hooves that allow them to walk smoothly in desert sand.
The critically endangered species of gazelle, the dama gazelle (Nanger dama) is now only found in Niger, Chad and Mali, although previously its distribution was more extensive. Hunting for meat and loss of habitat threaten the survival of this species. These gazelles feed on the leaves, fruits, grasses and shoots of desert plants.
Dromedary Camels And Goats
The dromedary camel or the Arabian camel (Camelus dromedarius), is the second largest species of camel after the Bactrian camels. They have only one hump unlike the two humps of the Bactrian species. These camels were domesticated by human settlers from the Sahara and are used for various purposes like transportation and meat. These camels are highly adapted to survive in arid conditions and are mainly nocturnal in nature. The inhabitants of the Sahara also keep domesticated goats for milk and meat. Camels and goats were once found in the wild, but currently wild populations of these animals are quite rare.
Desert Foxes (Fennec Fox, Pale Fox and Rüppell’s Fox)
The fox Fennec (Vulpes zerda) is the smallest species of canine with unusually large ears that help dissipate heat. Its body is well adapted to arid habitat, and is found from Morocco to Egypt as well as south to northern Niger and east to Kuwait and the Sinai Peninsula. It feeds on birds, insects and rodents. One of the least studied fox species, the pale fox’s habitat stretches from Senegal to Sudan. Its sand color camouflages it well in the desert, which makes it difficult to detect. Rüppell’s fox (Vulpes rueppellii) is a small fox with a sandy coat and an omnivorous diet. It also finds its place on our list of “What Animals Live in the Sahara Desert?”
Among the main predatory animals that live in the Sahara Desert is the Sahara Cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus hecki). Only about 250 mature adults of this critically endangered species survive today. They are mainly found in the central western parts of the desert. These cheetahs have a pale colored coat and less noticeable spots and stripes than other African cheetahs. They feed on antelopes like addax and gazelles. Sometimes they also hunt hares. They are generally solitary in nature with a semi-nomadic lifestyle. They mainly hunt at night.
A critically endangered species, the addax antelope (Addax nasomaculatus) is rarely seen in the Sahara. Indiscriminate hunting has wiped out large populations of this animal. The species is native to Mauritania, Chad and Niger. It is characterized by its long twisted horns and its pale coat which also gives it the name of white antelope. Addax antelopes are highly adapted to live in harsh desert conditions and can maintain themselves without water for indefinite periods of time. Thus, they are found in extremely arid conditions, regions receiving less than 100 mm of annual precipitation. They feed on grasses and leaves of desert plants and derive their water from their food and dew.