Visitors to Wadi Rum usually see very few animals. This is because most desert creatures are nocturnal, and many are now reduced to very low numbers. However, if you take the time to look carefully, you are likely to encounter a number of interesting birds, insects and reptiles – and some desert plants – as described below. More detailed information of the wildlife and ecology can be accessed through the library.
Trees are rare in Rum and restricted to three types: Acacias, False Figs and Tamarisks. The Acacias, with their flat tops and spiny, sparse branches, are the most typical desert-looking tree. However, the plants you will see most often are the short, woody shrubs scattered across the desert, which consist of three main species: White Saxaul, Jointed Anabasis, and Hammada salicornica. These provide an important food source for Bedouin goats and camels. This is especially the case in the summer months, when the smaller, and more succulent desert plants have all dried up
The sparse desert flora harbors a surprising variety of small birds, of which the most common is the buff colored Desert Lark. Other common but more distinctive birds are the black and white Mourning Wheatear and the White Crowned Black Wheatear, whose name is an indication to its striking color pattern. You are also likely to see African Rock Martins wheeling across the scrub and along the cliffs during the summer months, as well as passing flocks of Tristram’s Grackle (that have recognizable orange wings). In early spring and autumn, Rum becomes an important flyway for birds migrating between Africa and Eastern Europe. This is particularly true for certain birds of prey such as the Steppe Buzzard, Honey Buzzard and Steppe Eagle. It is possible to see hundreds of these birds on a single day.
Reptiles are widespread in Rum, but do not exist in high numbers. This may be considered fortunate by some visitors, since there are ten species of snake, of which two are very poisonous vipers: Cerastes gasperttii and Echis coloratus. The Cerastes has the classic ‘side-winder’ movement and leaves indented ‘S’ shaped tracks in the sand. It should be stressed, however, that bites from these snakes (or any snakes) are extremely rare; the vast majority of visitors never even come across a snake. The reptiles most likely to be seen are the lizards, particularly Geckos and Agamas. The Blue Agama is relatively large, growing up to 35cm, and can be seen basking on rocks or hiding in crevices. Males in breeding condition develop an exotic blue head and upper body, giving rise to its name.
Looking closer on the sand, one common small creature is the Blaps Beetle, recognizable by its long legs. It is frequently seen crossing areas of open sand during the daytime, yet walking tall in order to keep its body off the hot sand. Other kinds of invertebrates (insects, spiders and their allies) have different strategies for keeping cool, such as making burrows and hiding under stones. One renowned and classic desert-dweller that can be found frequently under stones in Rum are scorpions. From large brown ones to small yellow ones, a total of eight different kinds have been identified to date. It is the small, yellow ones that give the most painful sting, although like snakes, few visitors see them and very few ever get stung.
Small mammals are also common in Rum. The mouse-like gerbils, with their long back legs are an example, but they are active only at night. As a consequence, few visitors get a chance to see them. Their burrows, however, are easy to spot and they make distinctive tracks across the sand.