Deserts are mostly found in the east but a few are also found in the western region of the Americas. They are very hot places with low moisture and barren waste lands. When you think desert what normally jumps into your head is sand cactus and clear skies with the sun beating down on you. The maximum temperature for a desert can climb up to 120 degrees Fahrenheit. The temperature in winter only drops a few degrees and it receives a small amount of humidity. The average amount of rainfall year round is less than 15 cm. Vegetation is very rare, it’s mostly restricted to ground-hugging shrubs and woody trees. All the leaves are replete. Typical animals include small nocturnal carnivores. There are also insects, arachnids, reptiles, and birds. In American deserts is the barrel cactus. The barrel cactus is easily distinguished from other cacti because of its cylinder-shaped body. It is one of the largest cacti in North America reaching a staggering eleven feet tall. Running down the spines are 3-4 inch spines and on top are rings of yellow-green or red blossoms. Native Americans used to boil them into cabbage-like stews.
They would also grind up the pulp and extract the water. Another plant native to deserts is the brittle bush. IT is a small deciduous shrub which grows as a low roundish mound 2-5 ft high. The branches sprout from woody trunks. On the branches are leaves about 1-4 inches long that are covered in a thick mat of short hairs. They act as an insulator against the heat by trapping moisture to reduce the amount lost to perspiration. Deserts do have trees such as the Joshua tree. The largest of the Yucca trees it is only native to the Mojave Desert. Climbing up to 40 feet tall its average lifespan is 200 years. Surprisingly it is a member of the lily family and its habitat is similar to that of a palm tree. It grows creamy yellow and green flowers. To survive in the heat of the desert it has developed a double root system. The first set stores any surplus water and develops bulbs. The other, a shallow root system, reaches only a couple feet down and perform the typical root role.
One of the most trademark animals in the desert are lizards. One in particular is the armadillo lizard. To survive from predators it rolls itself in a ball holding its tail in its mouth. It protects the soft underbelly of the lizard and also creates the illusion of a spiny ring to the predator. Typically it is very slow moving but when it feels threatened it runs as fast as it can to cover. The body and club-like tail are flattened to help it wriggle underneath rocks. Another such lizard is the Thorny Devil. It has little thorn like spikes all over its body. Its defense mechanisms consist of:
1) they have the ability to change colors to match their environment. 2) They have a fake head or knob on its neck in the place where a normal head should be. 4) If a predator hide in small shrubs. 3) When they’re scared they put their head between front legs, which shows tries to flip it over it puts its spine and curved tail against the ground to prevent it from falling over. 5) Its movement looks like a leaf, and it often “freezes” instinctively. 6) They have the ability to puff themselves up like a ball, which makes them look bigger. Another is camouflage. Another typical animal of the desert is the coyote. Coyotes once only lived in Western America, but people have forced them to find other habitats. Coyotes can be found in the United States, Canada, and Mexico. They live in all kinds of habitats including deserts, prairies and mountains. Coyotes have even been found on Cape Cod! Coyotes eat mostly rabbits and rodents. They also hunt antelope, goats, sheep, and other animals. They will eat insects and reptiles. Most coyotes live alone or in pairs, but may live in larger groups. Mainly their only predator is mountain lions, but more recently it is developing into humans as well.
There are many ways human activities can impact the desert biome, at least where there is an existing ecosystem. Development by mining or residential use is one way, as would be diverting the limited water supplies for agricultural use elsewhere. Humans can damage the desert ecosystem if they use the areas for recreation in an unwise fashion. Off-road riding (4×4 and dirt bikes) can damage desert plants and pollute the soil, as well as disrupting the activities of wildlife. Diverting water supplies, which are already likely scarce, can prevent infrequent rainfall from reaching the native plants. Killing rodents or predators that invade farms impacts the food chain that exists in the desert. Although it may not appear so, most deserts support fragile ecosystems that are easily damaged by roads, mineral refuse, or oil contamination that can come from industries or mines.