Shivering in the Desert
Many deserts were formed 8,000 to 10,000 years ago. Some are superhot in the day. In fact the highest temperature ever recorded on Earth was 134°F (56.6°C) in California and Nevada's Death Valley in 1913. Even though many deserts can reach temperatures of well over 100°F (37.8°C) during the day in summer, they can get cold at night. Why? In most places, clouds and water vapor hold in heat, sort of like a blanket. But deserts don’t have enough clouds and water vapor to do this.
Some deserts are always cold—in fact the biggest desert in the world is Antarctica! Even though it’s covered in snow and ice, it rarely rains or snows in Antarctica, which makes it a desert.
Deserts can be huge spaces. For instance, the entire continental United States could almost fit inside Africa’s Sahara desert. The giant Gobi desert in Asia stretches across parts of China and Mongolia. North America has large deserts, too, including the Mojave in California and parts of Nevada, Arizona, and Utah. The Sonoran is a large desert located in Mexico and parts of the Southwestern United States. More than one-fifth of the continent of Australia is covered in desert. The Great Victoria Desert is the largest on the continent.
It may seem like nothing can live in a desert because it’s so dry. But most deserts are full of life, with plants and animals that have adapted to survive without much water. Some plants, like cacti, store enough water in their stems to last until the next rain. Other plants, like mesquite grass, have very small leaves that curl up in the daytime to conserve the water they have. Some desert plants sprout and bloom only when it rains.
Desert animals also have adaptations that help them survive without much water. Kangaroo rats in the Sonoran Desert get water from the seeds they eat. Some carnivores, such as desert foxes, get enough liquid from their prey.
Another trick? Most desert animals stay underground or beneath shady rocks during the day. Many of them come out to hunt for food at night, when it’s cool.
If you plan to explore a desert, be sure to pack water, sunscreen, and protective clothing. After all, you’re not a kangaroo rat!