Colours of a Biome: Desert Edition


Last time on our tour of colourful biomes we looked at the Tropical Rainforest. Today you’ll need to grab your reusable water bottle because we are looking at the colours found in the driest biome, the desert!

Desert biomes cover 20% of the Earth’s surface and they get less than 50cm of rainfall a year. Species that live in this biome not only have to survive dry conditions but also extreme temperature changes. During the day, the desert temperature ranges from 20°C to 38°C, but at night temperatures can drop between -4°C to extremes as cold as -18°C.

Red Kangaroo (Macropus rufus)

red kangaroo, australia
Red Kangaroo

Details: Despite its name, not all Red kangaroos are red. In certain areas, the males are red and the females are grey-blue while in other spots, this pattern is reversed. These kangaroos also hold the record for the largest living marsupial. Males can weigh 90kg and when standing upright, they can reach 1.8m. Their tails can grow to 120cm and are so strong that they can use it as a 5th leg to help support their weight.

My Hood: In the deserts and grasslands of Australia. They stick to places without trees or bushes but they always have some shade within hopping distance.

How I fit in: Since they are grazers, they play an important role in controlling the vegetation in the desert biome. Their love of plants also helps them survive in this dry biome. By eating moisture-filled plants, they can delay their need to stop for water.

Arizona Bark Scorpion (Centruroides sculpturatus)

arizona, bark scorpion
Arizona Bark Scorpion. Photo Credit: Brian Basgen

Details: Although these guys only grow to about 80mm, don’t underestimate their dangerousness. This species is considered the deadliest scorpion in America. Their venom can cause paralysis in healthy adults and can be deadly to small children and the elderly.

My Hood: Throughout Arizona reaching into surrounding states and Sonora, Mexico.

How I fit in: Their orangey brown colour is extremely helpful for hiding – they blend right into the sandy environment of the desert. Their excellent climbing skills also come in handy for hiding in trees and on rocks.

Manny Rubio Scorpions: Everything About Purchase, Care, Feeding and Housing. Hauppauge, NY: Barron’s Educational Series Inc., 2008: Page 44-45

Brittlebush (Encelia farinose)

Brittlebush. Photo Credit: Stan Shebs

Details: This plant can spread outwards, growing up to 150cm. New leaves and stems are tomentose (which means the plant has tiny hairs). The Brittlebush is actually a member of the sunflower family.

My Hood: California to Utah, Arizona and parts of northwest Mexico.

How I fit in: The plant’s hair protects it from the extreme temperatures of the desert. It acts like a blanket at night, trapping the heat. During the day, the sun is reflected and the plant stays cool. These hairs also help to trap moisture so the plant can survive on the little water that is available in this biome.

Saguaro Cactus (Carnegiea gigantea)

cactus, sonoran desert, saguaro
Saguaro Cactus

Details: This is perhaps the most distinctive cactus in North America. Its tall stem can grow to be 12-18m and can have over 25 arms. This shape takes many years to form as the Saguaro cactus grows very slowly. With the right conditions it is believed that the Saguaros can live between 150-200 years old!

My Hood: This cactus is only found in the Sonoran Desert, located in Southern Arizona, Southeast California and Sonora Mexico.

How I fit in: The Saguaro cactus is very important for the animals in this environment as its seeds and fruit provide a great food source. Birds also use the Saguaro for nesting by hollowing out parts of its stems.

Desert Larkspur (Delphinium parishii)

desert larkspur
Desert Larkspur. Photo Credit:Stan Shebs

Details: This plant’s blue flowers create a beautiful contrast against the browns and yellows of its desert home. It is known to have a strong stem and can grow as tall as 2 feet.

My Hood: It is found in the Mojave and Colorado Deserts of California, Nevada, Utah and Arizona.

How I fit in: The Desert Larkspur is a very adaptable plant that can grow in all kinds of harsh conditions. Other than the desert this plant can also grow in gravel, and even along lava rock on mountains.

Lester Rowntree Hardy Californians: A Woman’s Life with Native Plants. Los Angeles: University of California Press Ltd., 2006: Page 83

Richard Spellenberg Sonoran Desert Wildflowers. Connecticut: The Globe Pequot Press, 2003: Page 130

Mojave Aster (Xylorhiza tortifolia)

mojave aster
Mojave Aster. Photo Credit: Alan Vernon

Details: This plant can grow to be 60-90 cm, tall and wide. The flowers bloom from March to May and sometimes in October. In addition to purple, the flower can also be pink, purple-blue, or white. Similar to Brittlebush, this plant also belongs to the sunflower family.

My Hood: This flowering plant lives in the Mojave and Sonoran Desert of California, Nevada, Utah and Arizona

How I fit in: The Mojave Aster is an excellent source of food for insects like Neumoegen’s Checkerspot larvae. They drink its nectar before they change into a butterfly. This plant is also able to survive on very little water, which makes it perfect for the desert.

Janice Emily Bowers Flowers and Shrubs of the Mojave Desert. Tucson: Southwest Parks and Monuments Association, 1998: Page 124

Pam Mackay Mojave Desert Wildflowers. Connecticut: The Globe Pequot Press, 2003: Page 45

Mary Irish Perennials for the Southwest: Plants that Flourish in Arid Gardens. Portland: Timber Press, 2006: Pages 291-292

More splashes of colourful biomes are coming your way soon. In the meantime, find out what a biome is and the different types that can be found on Earth. Up next: the deciduous forest!

To find out more about the desert biome check out these links:

Earth Rangers is a non-profit organization that works to inspire and educate children about the environment. At kids can play games, discover amazing facts, meet animal ambassadors and fundraise to protect biodiversity.