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sahara: eco info: animals

Prehistoric rock paintings in Algeria's Tassili-N'Ajjer park show that giraffes, elephants and lions once roamed a green Sahara. These days, animal life is based on what can best survive the heat and lack of water. Rodents, snakes and scorpions thrive here.

SMALL FENNEC FOX (Fennecus zerda):

SMALL FENNEC FOX This tiny carnivore -- at 17 inches long and less than three pounds, it's about the size of a cat -- sports large floppy ears that give off heat from its body, allowing it to thrive in desert conditions. At home in tunnels dug into sand dunes, the small fennec fox prowls the Sahara at night in search of rodents like the jerboa. Its fellow Saharan carnivores include the jackal and several types of hyaenas.

JERBOA (Jaculus):

JERBOA The jerboa, kin to the mouse, rat and squirrel, is one of 40 species of rodents that inhabit the Sahara. To keep cool, the jerboa burrows underneath the desert's sands to more humid soils where temperatures are roughly 10 to 20 degrees cooler than the outside world. Handicapped by weak forelimbs, the jerboa uses its entire body - even its nostrils - to build its subterranean home. Attached emergency exits allow it to escape predators like the small fennec fox. The jerboa scavenges for food - plants and seeds - at night. Its kidneys produce a highly concentrated urine that minimizes water loss.

ADDAX (Addax nasomaculatus):

ADDAX The Sahara's largest indigenous mammal, the addax travels in small herds throughout the Western Sahara, Mauritania and Chad. A creature of the dunes, the addax rarely drinks water. Instead, it sucks moisture from the desert grasses and bushes that make up its daily food requirements. Its oversized hooves make the addax adept at moving through the Sahara's loose sand.

CAMELS (Camelus dromedarius):

CAMELS The animal most frequently associated with the Sahara, camels were first introduced to the Sahara around 200 AD as part of trade caravans from the Arabian Peninsula. Unlike the horses it replaced, the camel is perfectly suited to the Sahara's harsh climate. Its soft feet are aligned so that it can move quickly and easily through sand. It can go for days - as long as 17 -- without drinking water or eating. Its food requirements are limited to the dry, brittle grass found throughout the Sahara. The Sahara's camels can move at speeds between 8 and 10 mph for 18 hours.
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SCORPION (Scorpionida):

The insect most commonly associated with deserts, scorpions in the Sahara come in 30 different varieties, most from the family Buthidae. Four of the Sahara's scorpion species are lethal to humans. In humans, their venom can cause temporary paralysis, convulsions, cardiac arrest or respiratory failure. In some species, the scorpion's venom is as toxic as that of a cobra. The scorpion limits its activities to the night, burrowing into the cooler sands beneath the desert's surface during the day. It absorbs water from the flesh of its prey.

HORNED VIPER (Cerastes cerastes):

HORNED VIPER One of the most venomous desert snakes, the sand-colored horned viper conceals itself beneath the desert floor to spring suddenly on rodents and birds. Only its horns betray its presence. It uses a sidewinding motion to skim effortlessly across the desert and burrows beneath the surface to shield itself from the desert sun. The horned viper can grow to lengths of up to 2 ft.

Addax Photo Credit/Copyright: Lisa Purcell

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