I'm writing a book about a man traveling on a Desert planet (colonized) and I need help with some of the species he might encounter there. I'm focusing on animals right now. I need to know what adaptations would be useful for daily tasks such as burrowing (Please note that tasks somehow autocorrected to Saskatchewan. I found that funny) on a planet like this.

The world is slightly smaller than earth, and slightly less gravity. It is covered in sand and strange formations. It is mostly populated by humans. There is a large oasis near the north pole of the planet. From there are several underground streams that surface as oases all over the planet. There are many large lakes throughout the north and they become less common and smaller as you go south. This causes the north to be more populated and richer.

My question is: What unique adaptations will animals need to survive in a desert environment?

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    $\begingroup$ Sandworms. You need sandworms. $\endgroup$
    – M i ech
    Mar 12, 2017 at 21:17
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    $\begingroup$ @Secespitus Type without rhythm and you won't attract the worm. $\endgroup$
    – M i ech
    Mar 12, 2017 at 21:35
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    $\begingroup$ Thanks for your edits, the question look a little better now. However, asking about adaptations for all types of plants and animals is pretty wide ranging. In general, this page is better for refining ideas you already have. Maybe look up some examples of desert wildlife (here is a list of mammals from Libya or native trees from Tucson, for example) and then ask specific questions about how to make that wildlife more exotic or bloodthirsty or what have you. $\endgroup$
    – kingledion
    Mar 13, 2017 at 0:07
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    $\begingroup$ I am probably going to have insects, in fact, I was thinking they may be one of the most common creatures to find. As for Kilisi, it is going to be hot and sandy. Average temp for day is 85 degrees Fahrenheit, and it can drop down to a minimum of 50 degrees Fahrenheit at night. There aren't really any seasons as the planet is nearly straight up-and-down. $\endgroup$ Mar 13, 2017 at 14:52
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    $\begingroup$ Even without sandworms, I'd recommend reading Dune. It describes quite a bit of the wildlife other than the sand worms and their ilk. $\endgroup$ Mar 14, 2017 at 10:04

3 Answers 3


The best way to imagine desert life on another planet (or any other type of life for that matter) is to look at desert life on earth. Desert creatures often have fleshy spikes, large ears, flaps and membranes to increase surface area to keep cool.

Plants on this planet would draw water from the underground streams covering the planet. Depending on the size and concentration of these streams, this may cover the planet in squiggly green (or whatever color your plants are) lines. So the logical way for the creatures to obtain water would be to consume the plants on this planet.

If plants are scarce on this planet, creatures could develop aggressive behaviors and adaptations to fight for food and defenses to protect from attacks. Camouflage, spikes, warning noises and a touch of bright poisonous color will be favored by smaller creatures to deter, while larger ones may have large, plate-like scales and hard horns or spikes of some kind. Creatures will probably have lazy behavior if a large herbivore and carnivores can may be patient and waiting ready to pounce.

If this planet is a desert planet due to it's proximity to its sun, then creatures may have adapted some way to turn light and/or heat into usable energy.

  • $\begingroup$ Good and direct answer: +1. Will there be a variety of sleep cycles or will most of the activity be at dusk or dawn to preserve water? Are falling nighttime temperatures going to further limit activity? Will it split across cold blooded vs. warm blooded (and who would get the advantage, of either)? $\endgroup$ Mar 14, 2017 at 10:01
  • $\begingroup$ @Toddles There probably will be a variety of sleep cycles, just as there is on earth with small cold-blooded creatures awake in the day and warm-blooded burrowers in the night. A big factor when discussing temperature, is the (unspecified) length of the day and temperature. so lets say it is similar to an earth desert, with 24 hour days, at 50 degrees midday and 0 at night. Many creatures on earth can easily survive at temperatures far below 0. so nocturnal creatures should have no problem doing their things at night. larger creatures should probably stick to the squiggly forests or whatever. $\endgroup$
    – user23560
    Mar 15, 2017 at 5:35

First off, deserts (as far as we know) are not conducive to the emergence of life. So the world would likely have been a lot wetter at some point. So, life would probably be adapted from creatures that lived in that wetter environment.

Also, there are many kinds of deserts. If you are talking sand dunes, creatures will develop ways of protecting their eyes and breathing from flying sand.

Some commonalities of deserts: water is rare. When it is found, you have to ask why the water is there.

Are there areas that get rain and there are underground rivers that approach the surface is some areas? If so, creatures will develop methods to sense and store water. They will also be likely to have thick skin/scales/shells to retain the moisture in their bodies.

Do creatures get their water from dew? Is so, plants will likely have "fuzz" or spikes that collect that dew and let it drip off the ends of the fuzz or spikes where the plant can collect it before it evaporates.

Because of the low moisture content of the air, deserts tend to be scorching during the day and near freezing to actually freezing at night. Creatures and plants must be able to survive these extremes. Some burrow to get away during the extreme times of day/night.

Unless there is water near by, prey will likely be few and far between. So, animals will have to conserve energy as much as they can while still catching enough to live.


To answer, I'm using Earth analogies.

Years of erosion and compaction can produce sandstone, which helps create landforms around our world's deserts, and to take arguably the largest oasis (Tamerza) of the largest desert (Sahara) as an example, I'll use to try to answer the question. This is Tamerza; and I'll use other examples that I've been to, to maybe highlight the human impact. I have to stress that an oasis is rarely just a spot on the ground: it is found in crevasses.


Besides the basis of bacteria and simple organisms, you have water and sunshine that allows intense competition among plants that will help establish an ecosystem. This is simplifying a lot of things, but might be useful for your story.

enter image description here (photo in Tunisia - a little water can go a long way)


Another critical element to a system is the growth and arrival of insecta; again, I'm simplifying an enormous process, but this probably should be noted. They support your birds and small mammals.


I think these might be your best bet for animal life that is successful; a lot of highly developed animals can go a long way, but birds will be able to travel much farther, as evidenced by a number of bird species on Earth. Gliding high in the air allows for seeking the next oasis while avoiding ground predators for a long distance.

But you also want human development; I'll pull from the intense human development in the Gulf Region we worked on. There are a lot of silly developments that are just construction, but there are others where defensive architecture (that is to say, defensive against the arid, hot environment) could be largely successful.

In Ras Al Khaima, a proposal for a modern expression of local climate development was proposed (was not built, but it has its merits) against the wind and the sand:

enter image description here

You've a lot of real-life examples; keep your oasis protected by sandstone, keep your plants in competition; keep your animals both mobile and small; and keep your human architecture resilient against the elements.


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