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Cover-Desert Dwellers

TPW Magazine, August 2010
Desert Dwellers (pdf).

Desert Dwellers!

What lives in a desert? How do animals, plants and people survive with little water?

The desert is a very special habitat. There are only four deserts in North America, and Texas is home to one of them. Our desert is called the Chihuahuan Desert. It is in West Texas, sometimes called Big Bend Country.

Your assignment this month is to learn about  the Texas desert!


Read about the plants and wildlife of Big Bend.

Life in the desert means adaptations. Sometimes people adapt to situations, meaning they can choose a behavior. But mostly when scientists refer to adaptations, they mean you just have to be born that way.

Hiker and his Dog Cactus in Bloom Javelina

Behavioral adaptations means something chooses to change its behavior. To help survive in the desert, kids can choose to play outside in the morning or evening but not in the middle of day when it is very hot. People can choose to wear sunglasses to protect their eyes and long pants to avoid thorns.

Look at the picture of a man and his dog who want to hike in the desert. What evidence of behavioral adaptations do you see in this picture? What other behavioral adaptations (preparations) should he make?

Physical adaptations means a species has special features that help them survive. An animal is born that way. This is something that happens over many generations.

Instead of broad, tender leaves, a cactus has thick stems or pads to store water and spines instead of leaves. The spines help collect dew drops and deflect dry wind.

The Javelina's snout allows it to eat prickly pear cactus without getting a nose full of cactus thorns.

See if you can answer these questions:


  • What is a desert?
  • What makes the Chihuahuan Desert unique?
  • What are the sources of water in Chihuahuan Desert?
  • Where would you see animals in the desert?
  • When do cacti bloom?
  • How many species have been seen in Big Bend National Park?
  • Which bird doesn't need to drink water?
  • How do biologists study mountain lions?
  • Are there bears in the desert?
  • What large animal are biologists trying to bring back to Big Bend?
  • How did the kangaroo rat get its name?

spike_hiking215h.jpgWILD Science: How did you do? 

Here are the answers to the matching game in the magazine:
This reptile can live up to 60 years: Texas tortoise.
Its name means spear because it has ultra-sharp tusks: Javelina.
This creep critter has eight eyes: Tarantula.
In spit of its name, this animal doesn't eat cactus: Cactus wren.
Because its face looks like a dog, this mammal is nicknamed:"bulldog bat": Big free-tailed bat.

You can learn more about deserts at