Comprising a total of 13,000 square miles, the Taklamakan Desert is the largest desert in China, according to the TravelChinaChannel website. In the language of the Uigur people, the name Taklamakan means “you can get in but can never get out.” Due to its inhospitable climate Taklamakan is mostly uninhabited but a few animals and plants do manage to survive. These resilient species are able to live without water for remarkably long periods of time.
The long-eared jerboa is a tiny rodent that inhabits parts of the Taklamakan desert as well as other arid places in the region. This animal feeds mostly on flying insects, which it finds by echo-location and captures by jumping quickly into the air. Like other jerboas, the long-eared jerboa is nocturnal and spends most of its time in underground sand burrows. Adult jerboas are between 3 and 3 1/2 inches long and its ears are 30 percent longer than their heads.
Inhabiting parts of the Taklamakan and Gobi Deserts, these incredibly resilient mammals can withstand extreme temperatures and live for months without water. Bactrian camels store water in their humps, which stand erect when full and slump over as water levels decline. Domesticated Bactrian camels make excellent pack animals that are able to carry up to 600 lbs. for 30 miles a day. These animals can live to be 40 years old and can weigh up to 2,200 lbs. when full grown.
Asian Wild Ass
Also known as the onager, the Asian wild ass is one of few mammals that inhabit the Taklamakan Desert. This animal is now considered endangered due to overhunting, competition with livestock and habitat destruction, according to the Animal Planet website.. The Asian wild ass feeds mostly on dry desert grasses and will travel miles to reach the scant watering holes of the Taklamakan. These animals typically weigh between 440 and 570 lbs. and have a head to body length of between 6 1/2 and 8 feet.
Tamarisks are small deciduous trees or shrubs that grow in the outlying regions of the Taklamakan Desert. These trees produce wispy foliage and pink flowers that add color to areas that are virtually lifeless. The tamarisk needs sandy, dry, well-drained soil, of which there is plenty in the edges of the Taklamakan. This plant also tolerates the high winds and sandstorms common in the desert. Tamarisk grows in dense thickets that can be difficult to pass through. This plant has become an invasive species in North America since it was introduced from Asia.
Alhagi sparsifolia is a leguminous perennial desert plant found in the Taklamakan Desert. It is unique because it absorbs atmospheric nitrogen to survive. The plant provides much-need protein to Chinese farmer’s livestock in the Taklamakan region. This plant, like others found in Taklamakan, can tolerate high winds, high and low temperatures, and extremely dry conditions. Alhagi sparsifolia’s deep, extensive root structure helps prevent sand erosion in parts of the desert.
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