The Sahara desert is home to one of the harshest environments on Earth.
At a whopping 9.4 million square kilometres (3.6 million square miles) in size, it takes up nearly a third of the African continent, an area that’s about the same size as the United States, even when including Alaska and the Hawaiian Islands! That’s a big sandbox!
Located in the northern regions of Africa, this colossal desert spans a total of 11 different countries: Algeria, Chad, Egypt, Libya, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Niger, Western Sahara, Sudan and Tunisia.
The Sahara is probably most famous for the sandy dunes that we often see in movies, but in reality, these dunes actually only account for about 15 percent of the entire desert.
In reality, the desert landscape consists of a wide variety of topographical features which include mountains, plateaus, sand and gravel plains, salt flats, basins and depressions.
We’ll admit that those sandy dunes are visually impressive, however, as they can reach heights of up to 183 metres (600 feet) tall!
Even though the Sahara is defined by it’s arid, harsh environment, many plants and animals call the desert their home.
Approximately 500 species of plants, 70 mammalian species, 90 avian species and 100 reptilian species live in the Sahara. Additionally, several species of scorpions, spiders, and other small arthropods seem to enjoy the desert life.
Perhaps, one of the most iconic desert animals is the camel. You may be surprised to read this, but camels are actually native to North America!
So how did they come to inhabit a place halfway around the world? Well, between 3 and 5 million years ago, they decided to cross the Bering Isthmus, according to a 2015 study in the Research Journal of Agriculture and Environmental Management.
The humps on a camel’s back make them uniquely adapted to the desert environment. They store fat which can be used for energy and hydration between meals. This allows a camel to go more than a week without water, and several months without food!