The earth, known as the blue planet , receives this name due to the oceans that cover 70% of the planet’s surface. However, despite the fact that most of our planet is covered by water, we can also find areas of great extension and totally opposite conditions, we are talking about deserts. Do you know which is the oldest and driest desert in the world? Close your eyes and let AgroCorrn transport you to the Atacama desert with its flora and fauna !
Where does the Atacama desert begin
The Atacama Desert is the oldest desert on the planet , with more than 150 million years, and also considered the driest because only an average of 0.5 mm of rainfall is recorded per year , there are areas in which the periods without rain exceed 300 years.
It is located in the north of Chile , covering the regions of Arica, Parinacota, Tarrapacá, Antofagasta, Atacama and Coquimbo, about 105,000 km² of surface in total. To the north it limits with the port of Arica, to the south, with the city of Copiapó, to the west with the Pacific Ocean and to the east with the Andes mountain range, these last two limitations being key factors in the climatic and meteorological characteristics of the desert. .
The atmospheric pressure of the Pacific gives rise to a stable and dry air mass that prevents the formation of precipitations , moreover, it produces fogs and clouds that, when they come into contact with the ground, lose their humidity and dry out the environment. Added to this is the effect of the Andes mountain range, which retains the humid winds from the Amazon basin and therefore favors arid and dry conditions.
Flora of the Atacama desert
The presence of vegetation is linked to the climatic conditions of the territory. Although it is true that the climate is mainly characterized by its high temperatures and the absence of rainfall , on the other hand, there are marginal areas, some located at a higher altitude and others south of the Copiapó valley, which present higher humidity levels.
In the driest areas of the desert, we can find species adapted to these conditions such as:
- Cactaceae : Copioaoa cactus.
- Shrubs : cachiyuyo.
- Trees : tamarugo and white carob.
All of them have great resistance to dehydration and salinity . In the more humid areas there is greater richness and diversity. In fact, in the Atacama desert, one of the most impressive phenomena in the world takes place, known as “the flowery desert”.
It is related to the El Niño phenomenon, in which the tides heat up producing rainfall and with it, the germination of more than 200 species of flowers , most of them endemic. We will highlight some species:
- Sighs : they cover extensive surfaces, presenting a white or light blue color.
- Pata de Guanaco : characteristic and very striking flower due to its fuchsia coloration.
- Saddlebag tassel : endemic species, with flower in the shape of a sphere.
- Yellow Añañuca : it usually grows in isolation, although in this case it is part of the desert flowering along with the other species.
- Lion’s Claw : known as the jewel of the desert, it is currently in danger of extinction due, on the one hand, to its scarcity and, on the other, to its high commercialization.
- Fox ear : it is an endemic species with a peculiar shape, similar to a funnel, which allows it to capture water, and with hairs inside, to capture insects.
- Malvilla : one of the most abundant species in the desert, it covers extensive areas of the desert with a characteristic lilac color.
Some other very representative flowers of the flowering desert are:
- Chaplet of Friar.
- Don Diego de la Noche.
- Field Lilies or Azulillos.
Atacama desert fauna
As for the fauna, as in the case of the flora, the presence of one or other species varies depending on the climatic conditions and characteristics of the terrain. In general, there is a greater variety in arthropods and birds , finding a smaller number of mollusks, reptiles and mammals. Some of the most characteristic species of the Atacama desert are:
- Vinchuca : belonging to the group of bed bugs, transmitting the disease “Chagas disease” and considered one of the most dangerous species in the world.
- Scorpion : also known as scorpion, they usually have small size and dull or transparent colors.
- Caterpillars : that appear occasionally, after periods of heavy rains.
- Nocturnal butterflies : they inhabit populated areas or with greater vegetation of the desert.
- Long-tailed snake : endemic to Chile, grayish and poisonous in color, although its venom is considered not very toxic.
- Lizard : it is one of the easiest species to see, because they are found in practically all areas of the desert.
- Vicuña : this mammal is found mainly in northern Chile, being a close relative of the llama, but smaller and more agile.
- Guanaco : similar to vicuñas, it shares territory with them.
- Vizcacha : mammal similar in appearance to the hare, found south of the Atacama region.
- Desert fox : it is found throughout the entire surface of the desert, being, in some cases, domesticated by the inhabitants of the towns.
- Flamingos : can be found on the shores of some lagoons.
- Tench : a common bird in the Atacama region, it is found in areas near rivers.
- Red-headed jote : it is a red-headed vulture that inhabits subtropical forests, scrublands and deserts.
- Harriers : they can be found in various areas of the desert, both in valleys and inland areas.
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