Week of July 3, 2022 – July 9, 2022
by Bridget Jones, Environmental Educator
As we experience early summer heat this weekend, some of us might stay cool by sitting near air conditioners or fans, eating cold treats, or going for a swim. But how do animals stay cool when the temperatures rise? Although humans are able to sweat, only a few other animals have this ability, such as horses. Instead, most animals in our region must rely on other adaptations to survive the heat of summer.
Many mammals, whose thick fur is essential during winter, need to shed and assume a thinner coat to prepare for the summer months. Some mammals, like deer and rabbits, have another advantage. Their enormous ears, in addition to giving them excellent hearing, also act as radiators! As the blood vessels in their ears expand, they release heat, helping the animal cool down.
Birds have several techniques that employ evaporative cooling, a process that uses moisture to reduce body temperature. This is the same process by which sweating cools us down, but since birds cannot sweat, they need to use other sources of moisture throughout their bodies. One technique, called gular fluttering, occurs when a bird opens their mouth and vibrates the membranes in their throat! Some birds, such as vultures, use another evaporative cooling technique that sounds gross, but is very effective: excreting liquid onto their legs.
Inside beehives, honey bees also flutter to stay cool, although in very different ways than birds. When hives become too hot, honey bees will flutter their wings like fans to bring the temperature down! The bees stand at the hive’s entrance and flutter their wings together, pushing hot air out and keeping the inside cool for their larvae.
Cold-blooded amphibians and reptiles, who are unable to regulate their own body temperatures, need to rely on their external environments to stay cool. Animals such as toads, frogs, turtles, and snakes will typically seek shelter under leaves or mud on hot days. Some of these creatures will even go into a state similar to hibernation, called estivation, to wait out the hottest months.
In the heat of the coming months, perhaps we can learn some strategies from our animal neighbors to stay cool. For example, we can seek out shade like a toad or use fans to vent hot air from our homes like a bee – although gular fluttering or radiating heat from large ears might be more difficult to achieve. Whatever techniques you use, make sure to stay cool and safe as you explore the outdoors this summer!