Beat the Heat: Animal-Style
Too hot outside to comfortably recline in your poolside lounge chair while sipping your icy margarita from a chilled glass? It’s okay – you get to go inside to your perfectly air conditioned house and cool off to your heart’s content!
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be unable to enjoy the modern luxury of an air-conditioned car, house, office, and building you walk into? It is almost hard to imagine not being able to simply switch on a fan or an AC and immediately feel relief from the sweltering heat, especially for those of us who live on out southwest in the United States. We wouldn’t be able to live in this hot of a climate were it not for modern air conditioning.
If you were an animal, however, how do you imagine you would keep cool in the hot, hot sun? We see animals every day, from the bunnies in our backyards to the elephants at the zoo, all feeling the same heat we are. Unlike our own beloved pooches and indoor cats who get round the clock shade and customized temperature-controlled air conditioned zones in your house, wild animals have to find their own unique ways to battle the rising temperatures.
Animals have a knack for finding all sorts of ways to beat the heat, and whether they live in the sweltering jungles of India or in the sandy deserts of Arizona, animals will always come up with a solution for relief.
Here are some of the ways that animals all around the world tackle the age-old problem of beating the heat.
Ears that Radiate Heat
You may not know this, but some animals have evolved to have those adorably large ears so that they can cool off. Elephants, rabbits, bats, coyotes, and even mice are just a few of the animal species that use radiating heat to regulate their body temperatures. Just as animals use their layers of fat, fur, and thick skin to keep them warm in the wintertime, they use the extremely thin skin of their ears to release heat.
As blood travels throughout animal bodies, it carries with it a remarkable amount of heat. When that blood moves through the animal’s’ large, thin-skinned ears, it gets as close to the outside world as it can, allowing all that trapped heat to dissipate incredibly fast before it circulates back through the body cooler than before.
Shedding Those Layers
Wouldn’t it be awful if you had to wear a heavy, fur-lined winter coat all summer long? That’s exactly what most animals have to deal with, but some lucky ones have the ability to shed all that unnecessary fur that traps heat. As soon as springtime hits and the temperatures begin to rise, animals like deer, bison, and rabbits have a hormone surge that results in them losing all of that unnecessary heavy fur so their skin can breathe far more easily.
Breaking a Sweat
Just as human animals have sweat glands, some animals have the ability to sweat off their heat stores. Horses are excellent sweaters, and so are hippopotamuses, who sweat a reddish substance that removes trapped heat and also acts natural sunscreen. But cats big and small, including lions, tigers, leopards, and Mr. Kitty on your lap, have only a few sweat glands, and they are in a surprising place – their paws. Felines sweat through the pads on the bottom of the feet, and they use that sweat to mark their territory (which is what Mr. Kitty is doing when he kneads you with his paws).
Pant It Out
You’ve seen your dog pant furiously after a good long run in the park, but there plenty of other animals who release built up internal heat through their tongues. Did you know that birds pant too? When you see a bird hopping around in your backyard with its mouth open, it is their form of panting using a very elaborate air-sac-and-lung combination that helps them ditch the heat in their bodies.
Aestivation: A Hole for One
Just like bears and other animals hibernate to avoid the harsh winter months, animals like frogs, snails, and some ground squirrels take to digging holes in the ground creating cool, comfortable retreats that allow them to escape the sun. These animals can stay in their burrows and live off of their stored body fats for quite some time, usually long enough for the hottest months to pass and the rainy season to begin. Aestivation is especially important for desert dwellers, so you’re likely to find lots of burrows and holes in the ground right outside your door.
Water It Down
Just like you like to take a dip in your pool when it gets too hot, animals love to roll around in puddles, lakes, and swamps of the wet stuff to cool themselves off. You’ve undoubtedly seen videos of uninvited bears making themselves at home in backyard pools, and they aren’t the only ones. Birds are happy to splash around in bird baths and puddles, and elephants herds will make a whole day of hitting the water holes and cooling themselves off.