How to Find Food in a Desert

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Food sources are sparse in deserts.
Food sources are sparse in deserts. (Image: desert 8 image by Dusan Radivojevic from Fotolia.com)

A desert is one of the most difficult places to find food on Earth. If you know where to look, however, there is sustenance to be found, although it is sparse and tricky to locate. While water and shelter are more important to immediate survival, food is required to maintain energy for any long treks. If you plan on being in a desert for any length of time, it's wise to know where to look to find nourishment.

Search any cactus you come across. If you are lucky enough to be in a desert that offers these plants, the fruit growing on cacti are your best bet at staying fed. All cacti fruits are edible, and many even have a great taste as an added perk. Take as many as you can carry when you find them.

All cacti produce edible fruit.
All cacti produce edible fruit. (Image: ripe prickly pear fruit image by leemarusa from Fotolia.com)

Watch for the homes of reptiles and insects. These often take the form of holes or mounds in the dirt. You can often lure out these animals with a small twig. Be extremely careful when trying this, as most of the time it's a mystery as to what's inside. If you catch a lizard, the tail is the best-tasting part of the animal and is also high in protein and calories.

Set traps. Actively hunting animals in the desert is a waste of precious calories, so it's a smart idea to set traps and wait for them to come to you. You can build a simple trap out of twigs by weaving them into a basket with a hole for the animal to enter. Arrange sharpened sticks or cactus thorns pointing inward around the hole to prevent the animal from escaping. You can use a small piece of cactus fruit as bait.

Monitor any bodies of water. In the desert, coyotes, foxes, birds and rodents all return to an area they know contains water. Since most animals that live in arid climates sleep through the heat of the day and come out to hunt at night, it's best to set up watch around a watering hole after the sun goes down.

Tips & Warnings

  • Do not eat if you have no liquids, as the body will use water to digest food.
  • Always cook any meat thoroughly. Reptiles in particular can carry salmonella, which can be difficult or impossible for the body to recover from in such a trying climate.
  • If you are not confident in your ability to avoid a bite or sting, do not attempt to capture any insects.
  • As it's difficult for even experts to differentiate between safe plants and those that are fatally toxic, it's a good idea to avoid wildflowers and weeds entirely, unless you can identify them by name.

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