Massive water loss is a serious challenge for terrestrial animals, which usually has fatal consequences. However, some organisms have developed means to survive this stress by entering an ametabolic state called anhydrobiosis. The molecular and cellular mechanisms underlying this phenomenon are poorly understood. We recently showed that Caenorhabditis elegans dauer larva, an arrested stage specialized for survival in adverse conditions, is resistant to severe desiccation. However, this requires a preconditioning step at a mild desiccative environment to prepare the organism for harsher desiccation conditions. A systems approach was used to identify factors that are activated during this preconditioning. Using microarray analysis, proteomics, and bioinformatics, genes, proteins, and biochemical pathways that are upregulated during this process were identified. These pathways were validated via reverse genetics by testing the desiccation tolerances of mutants. These data show that the desiccation response is activated by hygrosensation (sensing the desiccative environment) via head neurons. This leads to elimination of reactive oxygen species and xenobiotics, expression of heat shock and intrinsically disordered proteins, polyamine utilization, and induction of fatty acid desaturation pathway. Remarkably, this response is specific and involves a small number of functional pathways, which represent the generic toolkit for anhydrobiosis in plants and animals.