Terrestrial animals: characteristics, respiration, types, examples

The land animals are those who spend most of their life cycle on earth and belong to various groups evolved independently. These animals developed adaptations to survive in the terrestrial environment, very different from the aquatic one.

First, they move on a solid medium with air surrounding them. Air is less dense than water, so land animals are forced to support their own weight by a greater effect of the force of gravity.

Therefore, they have developed adaptations that allow them to survive in different terrestrial habitats. For example, an adequate body structure (internal or external skeleton, muscles) and ways of moving in accordance with this new condition (legs, crawling systems).

Additionally, the oxygen that is a fundamental element for life in the terrestrial environment is dissolved in the air. Therefore, terrestrial animals present lungs, tracheas and other variants to be able to use it in their vital functions.

Index [ Hide ]

  • 1Characteristics of land animals
    • 1Terrestrial habitat
    • 2Temperature
    • 3Moisture and dehydration protection
    • 4Body weight
    • 5Locomotion
    • 6Habitat variability
  • 2How do land animals breathe?
  • 3Types of land animals
    • 1Annelids
    • 2Mollusks
    • 3Amphibians
    • 4insects
    • 5Arachnids
    • 6Myriapods
    • 7Crustaceans
    • 8Reptiles
    • 9Birds
    • 10Mammals
  • 4Examples of land animals
    • 1The dog (Canis lupus familiaris)
    • 2The lion (Panthera leo)
    • 3The elephant (Loxodonta spp. And Elaphas maximus)
    • 4The boas (Boa spp.)
    • 5ants
    • 6The ostrich (Struthio camelus)
    • 7The red kangaroo (Macropus rufus)
    • 8The centipede or scolopendra (Scolopendra gigantea)
    • 9The Morrocoy tortoise or red-footed land tortoise (Chelonoidis carbonaria)
    • 10The chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes and Pan paniscus)
  • 5Terrestrial animals in danger of extinction
    • 1The giant panda bear (Ailuropoda melanoleuca)
    • 2The mountain gorilla (Gorilla beringei beringei)
    • 3The polar bear (Ursus maritimus)
    • 4The Iberian lynx (Lynx pardinus)
    • 5The Northern White Rhinoceros (Ceratotherium simum cottoni)
  • 6Topics of interest
  • 7References

Characteristics of land animals

Terrestrial habitat

Amur tiger

Terrestrial animals have in common having developed adaptation strategies in order to survive in the terrestrial environment. These adaptations are due to the need to respond to the challenges posed by the properties of the terrestrial environment compared to the aquatic environment.

Life arose in water, which involved evolving in a medium where there is a certain weightlessness (the density of the water allows it to float). On the other hand, oxygen is dissolved in the water, in addition to the fact that it maintains the most uniform temperature as well as the availability of humidity.

In the terrestrial environment, animals are subjected to a greater action of gravity on their bodies. Likewise, they are surrounded by a gaseous medium, with a higher incidence of solar radiation.


Another problem present in the terrestrial environment is the variation in temperature in its various habitats, due to the higher incidence of solar radiation. As well as the fact that the earth heats up and cools faster than water.

Under these conditions, land animals must develop different adaptations to survive in dry or very humid, warm and cold habitats. A good example is the polar bear, with black fur covered in translucent hairs and under it a layer of fat.

Black skin absorbs heat, grease keeps it warm and moist, and translucent hairs reflect light making it white. The latter as camouflage in the snow to more easily hunt their prey.

Moisture and dehydration protection


An environmental challenge faced by land animals is the reduced availability of water, mainly due to the loss of water due to evapotranspiration. Therefore, land animals have developed systems to regulate their perspiration such as fur, fur and other mechanisms to avoid excessive water loss.

Body weight

The air that surrounds the land animal is thin, unlike the aquatic environment, so it must support its own body. This forced terrestrial species to develop body structures to stand up and move.

As for example solid internal skeletons by vertebrates such as mammals, birds and reptiles. As well as exoskeletons adapted to the conditions of the terrestrial environment surrounded by air and not water in insects.


Animal locomotion. Source: CHUCAO / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)

Terrestrial animals must move and for this various forms of locomotion were developed such as walking on legs such as birds (2), mammals and reptiles (4), insects (6) and arachnids (8). Other mechanisms linked to the formation of legs is the jump, as in the grasshopper or the kangaroo.

Creeping locomotion is also used, where a specialized musculature propels the body without legs at ground level (snakes, worms).

Habitat variability

Finally, a characteristic of land animals is the diversity of habitats they occupy, with respect to the aquatic environment. Terrestrial animals face hot or cold deserts, different types of jungles and forests, as well as savannas and grasslands.

How do land animals breathe?

Terrestrial animals face the need to obtain oxygen from the air and for this they have developed various adaptations. Four basic respiratory systems are presented: pulmonary, book lungs, trachea-based and cutaneous respiration.

The pulmonary system is centered in the lungs, a pair of specialized tissue sacs into which air is delivered through a duct (trachea). There, in the alveoli there is the gas exchange between the air and the blood, CO 2 being  extracted  and supplying oxygen that goes to the cells, occurring in mammals, reptiles and birds.

Human lungs, a land animal. Source: Patrick J. Lynch, medical illustrator / CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5)

Some arachnids have a system called book lungs, which consists of a series of tissue folds where gas exchange also occurs. Another group of arachnids, insects and myriapods use the trachea system (branched ducts open to the outside through holes called stigmas that are all over the body).

Finally, cutaneous respiration by diffusion, that is, a thin skin that allows gas exchange, occurs in annelids.

Types of land animals

The most accurate way to classify land animals is according to the different taxonomic groups that zoology has established. Thus, there are annelids, onychophores, insects, arachnids, myriapods, crustaceans, reptiles, birds, and mammals.


They are earthworms, small cylindrical worms that live in the soil, processing the earth to obtain the organic matter that is its food. These organisms breathe by diffusion through their thin skin.


They are soft-bodied animals discovered or protected by a shell, most of their species are aquatic, but many snails and slugs are terrestrial.


This group includes animals that complete their life cycle between land and water. Some of its species are mainly terrestrial, such as toads, and others mainly aquatic, such as frogs and salamanders.


This is one of the most diverse and numerous animal groups on the planet, with the vast majority of its terrestrial species, except for a few that are aquatic and others eminently aerial. To adapt to this medium, they have developed an exoskeleton or external skeleton made up of a hard substance called chitin.

Insects Source: Anax_imperator_qtl2.jpg: QuartlCetonia-aurata.jpg: CrumpsUnidentified_Mantid_Species_ (6105939456) .jpg: Thomas BrownPyrrhocoris_apterus_ (aka) .jpg: André Karwath-Manpuppyria.puppisia.sp.jpg: Betacommand Swap. : Fritz Geller-GrimmBee-collecting-pollen2.jpeg: P.manchevGrasshopper_2.JPG: Ryan WoodPhyllium_giganteum, _adult_femal_from_dorsal.JPG: DrägüsScorpion_Urive_Urban_Urban.Urrrrrrrrr. SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)

This exoskeleton protects them both from drying out because they have a wax coating, and from predators. They move with six legs, some species have strong hind legs to make great jumps and in some cases they also have wings.


Like insects, arachnids (spiders, scorpions) have exoskeletons and move with legs, in this case 4 pairs. Your breathing can be through tracheas or the so-called book lungs.


This group includes centipedes, millipedes, and other similar organisms, characterized by having a segmented head and trunk with multiple pairs of legs. These animals need to protect themselves from drying out, since they lack the wax layer that covers the exoskeleton of insects.


Most are aquatic, but there are terrestrial and intermediate, reaching some 67,000 species in total and are characterized by presenting two pairs of antennas. Among the terrestrial and intermediate, there are some species of crabs that have five pairs of legs, two being transformed into claws.

The so-called land crabs belong to the gecarcinin family and require visiting the sea to reproduce.


This group includes snakes, lizards, crocodiles, alligators and others, characterized by having scaly skin and being ectothermic (they control their temperature by placing themselves in the Sun to increase it or in the shade or in the water to decrease it). This group moves on all fours or crawling with undulating movements of its muscles and abdominal scales.


Birds spend much of their lives in the air and perched on trees, which in one sense makes them land animals. However, some prefer to classify them as animals in the air.

There are birds whose environment is totally or fundamentally terrestrial, such as the ostrich, the rhea, the hen, the turkey and many others. This group of animals move through two legs (bipeds) and have feathers covering their skin to regulate their temperature.


Mammals evolved on land and most of their species continue to inhabit it, although a few returned to the aquatic environment. The human being and the rest of the primates, such as monkeys, gorillas, chimpanzees, orangutans, are in the group of exclusively terrestrial mammals.

Also the cats, including the tiger, the jaguar, the lion, the lynx and many other species. In addition to bears, elephants, giraffes, and domesticated species such as dogs, cattle, pigs, and horses.

They move by means of four legs in most cases (quadrupeds), or partially in two with the help of the forelimbs or hands (primates) or in two as in the case of the human being. They breathe through the lungs and regulate their temperature internally through the use of energy and inhabit almost all terrestrial ecosystems.

Examples of land animals

The dog ( Canis lupus familiaris )

It is the quintessential pet in most of the world, being a land mammal diversified into numerous breeds by human manipulation. Unlike its wild relatives, the dog is adapted to live in human environments, although it can become feral.

The lion ( Panthera leo )

One of the most iconic land animals is the lion, a mammal that is the largest predator in the African savannah. It is a carnivorous animal, adapted to a warm seasonal habitat with little vegetation.

The elephant ( Loxodonta spp. And Elaphas maximus )

Elephant (Elaphas maximus). Source: Yathin S Krishnappa / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)

There are 3 species of elephants of two different genera, being the largest land animal that exists. They live in herds both in the savannas and in the jungles of Africa ( Loxodonta africana and Loxodonta cyclotis ) and Asia ( Elephas maximus ) and are herbivores.

The boas ( Boa spp.)

They are reptiles whose form of locomotion is creeping, crawling thanks to a very strong muscular system in their abdomen. It is a predator, feeding mainly on rodents, birds and other small to medium animals.

The ants

They belong to the group of insects and there are about 10,000 species of ants worldwide. They are animals that form large colonies with hierarchies such as soldiers, workers and a queen, being exclusively terrestrial and appearing in almost all habitats.

Ostrich ( Struthio camelus )

It is a running bird, so it has a pair of strong legs and reaches up to 3 m in height, being the largest bird in the world. They inhabit the African savannahs and build their nests on the ground and reach speeds of up to 90 Km / H.

They are omnivorous (they eat both vegetables and small animals and carrion), and their eggs can weigh up to 2 kg.

Red kangaroo ( Macropus rufus )

It is the largest marsupial in existence, reaching up to 1.5 m in height and 85 Kg in weight, with two powerful hind legs. Their offspring complete their development in the leather bag or pouch that the mother carries in his abdomen and they move with great jumps that allow them to reach speeds of up to 70 km / h.

Centipede or Scolopendra ( Scolopendra gigantea )

It is a myriapod that can reach up to 30 cm long, with a body with 23 segments, red and black. In their front part they present a pair of legs like pincers (calipers) that inject toxic venom into humans and are predators of insects, arachnids, lizards, rodents and bats.

Morrocoy tortoise or red-footed land turtle ( Chelonoidis carbonaria )

Red-footed tortoise (Chelonoidis carbonaria). Source: Bjoertvedt / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)

It is a terrestrial turtle that inhabits the savannas and jungles of tropical America, and has a black shell with pentagonal designs and yellow spots. The scales of its legs are red on a black background and the plates of its head are yellow, it is herbivorous and scavenger, in addition to being used as pets.

Chimpanzee ( Pan troglodytes and Pan paniscus )

There are 2 species of chimpanzees, the common one ( Pan troglodytes ) and the bonobo or pygmy chimpanzee ( Pan paniscus ). They are the closest evolutionary animal species to us and inhabit the jungles of West Africa.

Terrestrial animals in danger of extinction

Many land animals have become extinct and others are currently threatened with extinction. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) centralizes the red lists worldwide.

These lists list the species considered to be with some degree of threat of extinction, assigning them the corresponding category.

Giant panda bear ( Ailuropoda melanoleuca )

Giant panda bear (Ailuropoda melanoleuca). Source: Manfred Werner / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)

The panda bear is the emblem of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and is a world reference in conservation. This animal inhabits the mountains of central China, there is only a population of 2,000 to 3,000 individuals and according to IUCN it is a species vulnerable to extinction.

Mountain gorilla ( Gorilla beringei beringei )

This gorilla subspecies inhabits the mountains of Central Africa, between Uganda, Rwanda and the Congo, leaving only two populations with about 900 individuals. According to IUCN the mountain gorilla is an endangered species.

The polar bear ( Ursus maritimus )

This great bear inhabits the regions of the Arctic Circle and although it is a land animal, it is also a skilled swimmer. It is a quadruped predator of seals, reindeer and other arctic animals. According to IUCN, the polar bear is a species vulnerable to extinction.

Iberian lynx ( Lynx pardinus )

This small feline is endemic to the Iberian Peninsula, leaving only three populations (two in Andalusia with about 300 individuals and one very small in the Montes de Toledo with 15 individuals. It is the most threatened feline worldwide and according to the IUCN is an endangered species.

Northern White Rhinoceros ( Ceratotherium simum cottoni )

Of this particular white rhino subspecies, only two female specimens remain in a reserve in Kenya. According to IUCN, the northern white rhino is a critically endangered species.


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