Saguaro desert
National Park Service


The desert can be a tough place to live, with rare and unpredictable rainfall and temperatures that range from freezing to scorching. But desert animals and plants have adapted to the extreme conditions. Many of them shut down or hide out during the hottest, driest times. Step into our southwestern desert, and find out how life thrives in this extreme place. This exhibit features live animals including desert tortoises, chuckwallas, desert iguanas, a turkey vulture, roadrunners, gila monster, packrats, scorpions and more!

Exhibit Highlights

  • Infrared image of lizard from See the Heat exhibit

    See the Heat

    Use an infrared camera to compare body temperature of ectothermic (cold-blooded) organisms, including real desert tortoises and chuckwallas, with the temperature of endothermic (warm-blooded) organisms like yourself!

  • Ants in the Saving for Dry Times exhibit in the Desert area

    Saving for Dry Times

    One of the big challenges animals face in the desert is surviving without much water. Honey ants have an unusual adaptation to this extreme condition. Special honey ants in each colony, called repletes, can store nectar inside their bodies. When food is scarce, the repletes can cough up nectar to share with other ants!

  • Extreme Zone Desert, fallen cactus animal display

    Meet the Cactus

    Find out about the special adaptations cactuses have to help them survive the heat and dryness of the desert. Cactuses can store water in their cells, swell up when they are full of water, keep water in with waxy skin and more. Large cactuses like saguaro provide homes to many desert animals, too.

  • Vulture and roadrunner in the Desert area

    Ducking the Heat

    Being active in a hot, dry desert has its challenges, but many birds have adaptations that can help them beat the heat and conserve water. See a turkey vulture and roadrunners up close to find out how they survive and thrive. Nearby, visit a gila monster, another desert dweller fit for life in the desert.

  • Flash Flood in the Desert area with guests

    Flash Flood!

    The desert is a dry place, but when it rains, it can pour! A summer storm can bring most of a year's rain in a single afternoon. Experience the thunderous thrill of a flash flood in our desert exhibit, where floods come every few minutes instead of just once a year.