Drought Busters: Plants and Animals Survive without Water

While human beings continue to invent new and more effective methods of water extraction and purification, it is the ability of some living things to provide themselves with drinking water even in the most arid regions of the planet, which is still more extraordinary. The ingenuity of plants and animals is a constant source of amazement.


The camel can survive for up to two weeks without any water at all. This is not, however, thanks to its hump, as some may think, but due to its body’s ability to consume the water it takes in very slowly.

For example, the camel collects moisture from its breath in a special crease near its nostrils. Water extracted from the moisture drips directly into the camel’s mouth. In addition to this, camels never sweat. Instead, the animal’s thick hair and the fatty deposits in its hump allow it to regulate its body temperature. When reaching water, a camel can drink up to 50 liters at once.

Thorny devil

This lizard consumes water in a very unusual way with its skin. Water drops (either from rain or dew) are carried to its mouth by means of tiny hygroscopic channels between its spines. After the rain, the lizard’s weight may increase by one third.

Some small mammals that inhabit deserts and savannas produce water by oxidizing lipids. In this way, jerboas, North-American kangaroo rats and Somalian gerbils are able to survive on minimal amounts of water.

Adansonia, or Baobab tree

This tree is found in Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, and Australia, and has the thickest trunk than any tree in the world. The largest specimen recorded of an Adansonia tree was 54.5 meters in diameter. The tree’s thick trunk is not for show: it actually acts as a gigantic water reservoir.

Under the tree’s wrinkled bark lies a porous pulp which is able to absorb large quantities of water like a sponge – up to 120 thousand liters.

During droughts, the tree loses water rapidly; its leaves fall off, and its trunk shrinks. It begins to resemble a tree growing with its roots in the air. Due to the large amounts of water stored in Adansonia trees, they are susceptible to fungal diseases. The trees rot from the inside, which forms large cavities in their trunks.

Welwitschia mirabilis

Mirabilis means “miraculous” in Latin, and this name speaks for itself. Its natural habitat is the arid deserts of Western and South-Western Africa. The low, thick stem of the Welwitschia is almost entirely hidden underground, making the plant look like a half-dead stump.

Welwitschia gathers water with its truly remarkable leaves. Each plant has only two permanent leaves that grow throughout its entire life, reaching a maximum length of 8 meters. The leaves are covered with multiple stomata – up to 22 thousand per square centimeter. The plant uses them to gather the moisture of the Atlantic breezes that blow for 300 days a year in the areas which make up its habitat.


Marine water is not suitable for drinking for most living things, due to the high concentration of salts and minerals. However, some trees are able to survive in the ocean. The habitat of mangrove is the sedimentary environments of tropical coastlines.

Mangroves grow in saline soils which give its roots no access to oxygen. The Rhizophora, or mangrove tree, has roots covered by a type of bark with extraordinary powers of filtration, able to desalinate sea water by up to 90%. The 10% of salt still consumed by the tree is excreted by its stomata. The salt that remains is washed off the leaves during heavy tropical rains, or the salt laden leaves are shed by the tree.

Opuntia Cactus

Succulents, or cacti, are very efficient at conserving water. But the Opuntia is the most efficient of all: it loses only 0.12 mg of water per one gram of its weight.

Cacti reduce water loss by reducing the surface area of the leaves, which have been transformed into spines. The plant’s ribbed surface and fleshy stem also help to save water, with the stem used to store moisture.

The Bauhinia, or Orchid Tree

To reduce the evaporation of moisture, some plants have leaves which are covered with a waxy coating or with tiny hairs. The Bauhinia from South-East Asia is able to fold up those leaves that are exposed to direct sunlight, in order to reduce water loss.

The Calathea, a plant from Thailand, does exactly the same thing: when exposed to sunlight, its leaves roll up. If the leaves of your houseplant are rolled, this is the first sign of lack of moisture.

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