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It is astounding how the fauna and flora of the Namib Desert have adapted to survive in their extreme environment, with temperatures breaching 40 degrees celius during the day and then plumeting to below freezing at night. This coupled with very little surface water means that a lot happens underneath the sand.
Like the flora in the area, the fauna have evolved incredible characteristics in order to survive in the extreme Namib Desert.
The desert is home to countless microorganisms. Beneath the sand live beetles, spiders and reptiles, such as geckos. All you need to do it look closely at the sand to see countless little tracks from the various interesting animals that have made this Desert their home. Many of these desert-dwelling creatures drink droplets of the occasional fog or lick minute droplets of water trickling down rocks and plants in order to survive. Others extract the moisture from the sand as they burrow through it.
Some of the larger mammals you will see around Sossusvlei are the ostrich, springbok and gemsbok, each well adapted to live in their dry surroundings. Larger predators include spotted hyena and the brown hyena. As the days cool down, you will be able to spot some of the smaller mammals in the cool night air, such as bat-eared fox, black-backed jackal, porcupine, Cape fox and aardwolf.
Camel thorn trees are dotted around the desert, usually along underground water systems. These classically Southern African trees have an impressive tap root system that reaches as far as 60 meters below the sand to access water. Not only are they able to tap into the underground water systems to allow them to survive the incredibly hot and dry days, they are also adapted to survive frost. It would seem from their name and their usual habitat that they are named for their “camel-like” characteristics. However this is not the case. The camel thorn tree is actually named after the afrikaans word for giraffe (“kameelperd”) as the giraffe is particually fond of the came thorn’s leaves and the only animal tall enough to reach them.
Another plant you are likely to see close to Sossusvlei are Nara Melons. These round, yellow fruit are approximately 15 centimeters in diameter and are endemic to the region. They also have an impressive root system that reaches down 40 meters in order to access water. Nara Melons are a tasty treat for the animals in the area, with whom they share a symbiotic relationship – the animals obtain vital fluids and nutrients from the fruit and in turn they spread the seeds in their droppings, ensuring the survival of the plants.
The fascinating Welwitschia plant is found only in the Namib Desert. These plants are sometimes referred to as “living fossils” as the plants that one can see above the ground are thousands of years old. These plants survive by extracting moisture from the air.