Living Without Water: A Desert Adaptation

By Dave Hanks

Last week, I wrote about the importance of water in maintaining life. That brought up another question. How do desert animals get by with practically none? One way is to conserve body moisture by being nocturnal. However, some rodents, such as the Kangaroo Rat and the Round-Tailed Ground Squirrel, have the ability to manufacture their own water from seeds.

The carbohydrates in seeds make this possible. The chemical make up of a carbohydrate is that every atom of carbon is attached to a molecule of water (C H2O). Simple sugar, the basic carbohydrate, is C6 H12 O6. Hence the term carbohydrate. All animal bodies break these molecules down during respiration in their cells and any excess H2O is excreted in the urine. If this water is retained, the need for additional is satisfied.

One would probably not expect to see much life in a desert because of the harsh conditions. It is always amazing to me to witness the variety of species we encounter there. Besides the birds, a favorite rodent of mine is found in arid areas.

The Antelope Ground Squirrel is an omnivore. It will consume insects, grasshoppers, and carrion, as well as vegetative matter. This squirrel can also go long periods without water. Unlike other ground squirrels, it does not hibernate. It digs an extensive burrow, two feet under ground, with two or three entrances.

This cute fellow is distinguished by a white stripe on each side of its spine. It prefers open areas and is diurnal (daytime active) which makes it more easily seen.

(An Antelope Ground Squirrel enjoying the cool of the morning)