Savanna Biome: Climate, Locations, and Wildlife

Savanna Lions
Lions on the Savanna, Kenya, Narok County, Masai Mara. Jonathan & Angela Scott/AWL Images/Getty Images

Biomes are defined by their unique vegetation and animal life. The savanna biome, which is a type of grassland biome, consists of areas of open grassland with very few trees. There are two kinds of savannas: tropical and semi-tropical savannas.

Key Takeaways: Savanna Biome

  • Animals including elephants, giraffes, lions and cheetahs make their homes in the savanna. Due to its open environment, camouflage and mimicry are essential for animal survival in the savanna.
  • Savannas have extreme wet seasons and dry seasons. The seasons are ones of extremes. During the wet season, savannas can receive over four feet of rain and as little as a few inches during the dry season.
  • Due to this lack of precipitation, it is very difficult for large plants like trees to grow in savannas.
  • While savannas are located on six of the seven continents, the largest are found in equatorial Africa.

Climate

The savanna climate varies according to the season. In the dry season, temperatures can be extremely hot or cool. In the wet season, temperatures are usually warm. Savannas are typically dry, receiving less than 30 inches of rain on average per year.

Tropical savannas receive as much as 50 inches of rain during the wet season, but as little as four inches during the dry season. The dry climate combined with the extreme heat of the dry season makes savannas perfect areas for grass and brush fires.

Location

Grasslands are located on every continent except Antarctica. The largest savannas are located in Africa near the equator. One of the most famous African savannas is Serengeti National Park in Tanzania, which is known for its large wildebeest and zebra populations. The park is also home to lions, leopards, elephants, hippos, and gazelles.

Other locations of savannas include:

  • Africa: Kenya, Zimbabwe, Botswana, South Africa, and Namibia
  • Australia
  • Central America: Belize and Honduras
  • South America: Venezuela and Columbia
  • Southern Asia

Vegetation

The savanna biome is often described as an area of grassland with dispersed trees or clusters of trees. The lack of water makes the savanna a difficult place for tall plants such as trees to grow. Grasses and trees that grow in the savanna have adapted to life with little water and hot temperatures. Grasses, for example, grow quickly in the wet season when water is abundant and turn brown in the dry season to conserve water. Some trees store water in their roots and only produce leaves during the wet season. Due to frequent fires, grasses stay close to the ground and some plants are fire resistant. Examples of vegetation in the savanna include wild grasses, shrubs, baobab trees, and acacia trees.

Wildlife

The savanna is home to many large land mammals, including elephants, giraffes, zebras, rhinoceroses, buffalo, lions, leopards, and cheetahs. Other animals include baboons, crocodiles, antelopes, meerkats, ants, termites, kangaroos, ostriches, and snakes.

Many of the savanna biome animals are grazing herbivores that migrate through the region. They rely on their herd numbers and speed for survival, as the vast open areas provide little means of escape from quick predators. If the prey is too slow, it becomes dinner. If the predator is not fast enough, it goes hungry. Camouflage and mimicry are also very important to animals of the savanna. Predators often need to blend in with their environment in order to sneak up on unsuspecting prey. The puff adder, for example, is a snake with sandy coloring that allows it to blend in with dry grasses and shrubs. Prey also use the same camouflage technique as a defense mechanism to conceal themselves from animals higher up on the food chain.

Fires

Due to the number and types of vegetation in savannas, fires can occur at different times of the year in both the dry and wet seasons. During the wet season, lightning strikes often cause natural fires in savannas. In the dry season, dry grasses can be fuel for the fires. With the advent of human settlements in some savanna areas, controlled burns may be used for land clearing and cultivation.