The desert is one of the world’s most inhospitable habitats. Animals who live in the desert have evolved adaptations to help them survive in these water-depleted environments. Besides the scarcity of water, most deserts provide very little food for the resident animals. Some animals -- including lizards, birds and mammals – have adopted omnivorous habits in the wild, consuming both plant and animal matter.
Lizards are important omnivores in desert ecosystems. Inland bearded dragons (Pogona vitticeps) are agamid lizards from the central deserts of Australia. Bearded dragons consume invertebrates like locusts, spiders and roaches, but they also consume leaves, fruit and flowers. Bearded dragons are capable of eating large quantities of food, gorging themselves when the opportunity exists. Most desert lizards derive at least some of their water from the plant material they eat, further aiding their survival in the desert. Other species of omnivorous, desert-living lizards include desert iguanas (Dipsosaurus dorsalis), chuckwallas (Sauromauls sp.) and spiny-tailed iguanas (Ctenosaura sp.).
Rodents and Other Small Mammals
A number of desert-dwelling rodents are omnivores; while primarily eating seeds and vegetable matter, they will also eat invertebrates, small lizards and eggs when they find them. White-tailed antelope squirrels (Ammospermophilus leucurus) are 8 inches long and live in tunnels throughout North American deserts and grasslands. While white-tailed antelope squirrels primarily consume greens, seeds and fruit, they are among the most carnivorous of the antelope squirrels. White-tailed antelope squirrels will forage on the ground and in the trees; equipped with flexible cheek pouches, they can collect large quantities of food before consuming or caching it. Though most desert-dwelling rodents are opportunistic and will eat insects and carrion, grasshopper mice (Onychomys sp.) are capable hunters who eat snakes, lizards and insects.
Coyotes (Canis latrans) are small to medium-size members of the family Canidae; they usually weigh about 15 to 25 pounds. Coyotes are highly adaptable animals who will eat virtually anything edible; rodents, rabbits and birds are preferred food sources, but they will also eat flowers, berries and beans. Their versatile diet sometimes brings coyotes into conflict with humans, as coyotes are known to eat human trash and the occasional pet dog or cat. Coyotes are hit by cars as they navigate the human altered habitats. In addition to coyotes, foxes (Vulpes sp.) sometimes inhabit deserts, and consume plant material -- especially berries and other fruits -- in addition to animal-based items.
Common ravens (Corvus corax) are supremely adaptable animals who sometimes live in deserts. These ravens' success is due partly to their extremely broad diets and opportunistic personality. Ravens will hunt for prey in pairs; they will invade garbage dumps and eat the refuse, steal the eggs of other birds and scavenge carrion when it is available. Ravens often nest in trees, but in the desert, they are most often found nesting on desert cliffs.The eggs, carrion and animals ravens consume are high in water content, which helps the birds survive the desert heat. Crows (Corvus sp.) and Roadrunners (Geoccoccyx californianus) are also omnivorous, eating items as diverse as rattlesnakes and cactus.
- Animal Diversity Web: Pogona Vitticeps
- Animal Diversity Web: Ammospermophilus Leucurus
- Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum: Animal Fact Sheet: Coyote
- Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum: Common Raven
- Animal Diversity Web: Canis Latrans
- Animal Diversity Web: Geococcyx Californianus
- Animal Diversity Web: Onychomys Leucogaster
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