Interesting facts about the Arabian Desert

arabian desert

The Arabian Desert is a vast desert in Western Asia.

It occupies almost the entire Arabian Peninsula, blanketing the area in sandy terrain and seasonal winds.

The Arabian Desert is the 4th largest desert in the world, the 2nd largest hot or sand desert in the world (only second to the Sahara Desert), and the largest desert in Asia.

It has length of up to 2,100 km (1,300 miles) and width of up to 1,100 km (680 miles).

The Arabian Desert covering an area of 2,330,000 square kilometers (900,000 square miles).

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At the center of the desert is Ar-Rub’al-Khali (The Empty Quarter), one of the largest continuous bodies of sand in the world.

The desert lies mostly in Saudi Arabia, extending into the surrounding countries of Iraq, Jordan, Yemen, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.

The Arabian Desert is bordered to the north by the Syrian Desert, to the northeast and east by the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman, to the southeast and south by the Arabian Sea and the Gulf of Aden, and to the west by the Red Sea.

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Seen from the air, the Arabian Desert appears as a vast expanse of light sand-colored terrain with an occasional indistinct line of escarpments or mountain ranges, black lava flows, or reddish systems of desert dunes stretching to the horizon.

The desert’s highest elevation in located in the southwestern corner of Yemen reaching 3,760 meters (12,336 feet) above sea level.

There is a great variety of desert flora. After spring rains, long-buried seeds germinate and bloom in a few hours. The normally barren gravel plains turn green. Sedge, which grows in sandy areas, is a tough plant with deep roots that help to hold down the soil. Tamarisk trees are often found on the borders of oases, where they help to prevent the encroachment of sand.

arabian desert plants

One of the most active forms of wildlife in the Arabian Desert are insects, who are able to survive in the sweltering heat of the sand dunes. Among the insects found in the region, the locust is often a cause of media attention. At one point the locust were considered a plague to the landscape, but has since been brought under control.

Many varieties of lizards also can be found among the wildlife of the Arabian Desert. One particular species, the dabb, is killed and roasted as a delicacy by the Bedouin. Other notable lizard varieties include the monitor lizard, which can reach an astonishing length of three feet.

Among the snakes, all of which are feared by most Arabs, the sand cobra-relative of the sea snake — is slim, sand-colored, and venomous. Vipers abound in sand and rocks but, being nocturnal, are seldom seen in the heat of day.

arabian desert snake

Hundreds of bird species inhabit or pass through the Arabian Desert each year. Birds of prey like vultures, buzzards and falcons are some of the most prevalent. Swallows, martins, sparrows and doves are also found.

Mammals were numerous before people began hunting them from motor vehicles. Gazelles roamed the plains in herds of hundreds before World War II and afterward almost became extinct, until the Saudi government began to regulate hunting and established wildlife preserves.

In desert plains honey badgers, foxes (notably fennecs), and civets live in territorial isolation. Hyenas live wherever sheep are herded, preferring escarpments that provide cover. Jackals also are seen, especially at dusk when they seek water. There are hares, as well as golden sand rabbits. Small rodents include jerboas, mice, rats, and porcupines, while small hedgehogs are found among rocks.

arabian desert fox

Humans have inhabited the Arabian Desert since early Pleistocene times (i.e., about 2.6 million years ago). Artifacts have been found widely, including at Neolithic sites in Qatar and Dubai, but they are most abundant in the southwestern Rubʿ al-Khali. Archaeological research sponsored by the Saudi government has uncovered many Paleolithic sites. Remains of cultures from the past 3,000 years occur in many parts of the peninsula.

The Bedouin adapted to nomadic desert life by breeding camels, Arabian horses, and sheep – but they have also grown date palms and other crops, usually hiring others to perform agricultural labour.

Western cultural influence accelerated with the discovery of petroleum in 1936 and led to the introduction of such modern conveniences as airplanes, telephones, and televisions.

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In the center of the desert lies Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia, with more than 7 million inhabitants. Other large cities, such as Dubai, Abu Dhabi, or Kuwait City, lie on the coast of the Persian Gulf.

Travel today in the Arabian Desert is easy and rapid. Instead of the slow camel caravan, automobiles now roar across desert terrains.

The climate is mostly dry and temperatures oscillate between very high heat and seasonal night time freezes.

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