Summer is a fun time of year, but the heat can be punishing and brutal. Thank goodness for modern comforts like central air and Popsicles to keep us comfortable. But the animal kingdom doesn’t have access to these delights. Animals have to rely on their own natural cooling systems. Fortunately, they have a lot of options. Here are 10 cool ways animals chill out, literally.
We humans aren’t the only animals who love to take a swim in a pool for refreshment in the summer heat. Elephants like to dip in and use their trunks to shower themselves with water. Birds will flock to your backyard bird bath not only to stay clean, but to stay cool, too. And even lions and tigers will take the plunge and submerge into a cool lake, river or pond to beat the heat. And you thought cats hated water!
Our primary method of thermoregulation, sweating, is shared by surprisingly few other animals, and most other sweaters don’t perspire as much as we do. Horses are a notable exception. Not only do horses sweat to cool off via evaporation, but they sweat a heck of a lot. In just one hour of intense exercise, and horse can lose 15 liters of fluid from sweating and exhaling water vapor. When a horse sweats excessively, the sweat may even begin to froth. This is where we get the expression “to work oneself into a lather.” (Practical Horseman)
Panting is one of the more commonly observed ways that animals cool themselves. Fur-covered animals are unable to sweat over most of their bodies, so they rely on panting. Short, shallow breathing evaporates moisture from the tongue, mouth and lungs. A panting dog can take 300 to 400 breaths per minute, but panting requires very little physical effort, so it doesn’t doesn’t generate any extra heat. (Vetstreet)
Your mom used to tell you to wear a hat in winter because you lose the most body heat through your head. But for some animals, losing heat is the goal. Have you ever noticed that a lot of desert animals have large ears? Just look at fennec foxes, jackrabbits and even house cats, which come from desert-dwelling African wildcats. These animals have large ears with networks of blood vessels that help radiate heat and lower body temperature. (Ask Nature)
Estivation is the opposite on hibernation. Hibernating animals hide out in a state of extended dormancy during the cold winter months, but estivating animals go dormant during periods of hot and arid weather. Like hibernators, estivators slow their metabolisms and can survive for extended periods with little food or water. A variety of animals estivate, including bees, snakes, hedgehogs, frogs, toads and snails. (Helium)
Sometimes the best way to deal with a problem like hot weather is to take the path of least resistance and just avoid it altogether. For many animals, that can mean a strategy as simple as staying in the shade as much as possible. Many other animals, particularly in the desert, have evolved to be crepuscular (active only at dawn and dusk) or nocturnal (active only at night). That way, they can get their business done while temperatures are at their coolest and, when the sun is at its peak, they chill out in cool burrows, dens or caves. (DesertUSA)
Contrary to popular belief, camels don’t actually store water in their humps. Instead, a camel’s hump stores fat, which plays a major role in keeping them cool in the desert heat. Because food can be scarce in the desert, camels need to store a good amount of fat on their bodies to sustain them. But fat on the body has an insulating effect that would also warm the body, which isn’t exactly an advantage in desert weather. Hence the humps. A camel’s hump acts as a centralized area in which to store fat so that the rest of the camel’s body stay lean and cool. (Today I Found Out)
Water isn’t the only thing animals dip into to cool their bodies. Elephants, for example, won’t hesitate to down and dirty in some goopy mud if it means fighting the heat of a punishing sun. But the creature who perhaps are best known for wallowing in the muck are pigs. With a lot of body fat but no sweat glands, pigs store a lot of heat in their bodies. Wallowing in mud cools a pig’s body up to 3.6 degrees, which is actually more effective than swimming in water, and better even than sweating would be (if pigs had sweat glands). (LiveScience)
This gross example of animals cooling themselves will make you feel a lot less embarrassed about sweating. Some species of storks and vultures possess the unusual method of cooling themselves by defecating and urinating on their own legs and feet. Other than the disgusting nature of this behavior, it works just like sweating. The evaporation of water in the feces and urine cools the vultures down. The habit is called urohydrosis. (Bureau of Land Management)
Next: Animals Eating Icy Treats
If it seems like your cat sheds a lot more during the summer months, you’re not crazy. In cold weather, most house cats grow extra fur to stay warm, and shed it in summer to cool off. It only makes sense. You wouldn’t wear an extra coat in July either, would you? Interestingly, your indoor cat likely sheds less than your outdoor cats. A cat who stays inside adapts to the more regulated temperature, and the shedding pattern changes over time. (VetInfo)
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