MISSOULA - It is getting hot out and the wildlife that surrounds us are also dealing with these challenges, but they have to do it a little differently. So, let’s talk about their cooling adaptations.
Our best method of cooling down is sweating. Sweat is made mostly of water with some potassium, salt, and other minerals. As sweat evaporates from the skin, it carries heat away from the body and allows cool air to rush in which helps reduce your overall body temperature. This process is called evaporative cooling.
The only other species here in the US that can sweat profusely like us are horses. Even though most animals can’t sweat a lot, they do have interesting adaptations to keep cool that you just may not know about.
Many wild species use evaporative cooling to regulate their body temperatures. They do this in different ways -- whether it’s taking a dip in a body of water or wallowing in mud to allow the same process of liquid evaporating off their skin to keep cool.
When staring at a mule deer you can’t help but notice its large ears. Besides looking adorable this is also an advantage during the heat. A big system of blood vessels running through their ears can expand when it’s too hot out, increasing their surface area and allowing for heat loss. Other animals with large ears like rabbits also use this cooling method.
Besides our dogs, many animals also pant. When an animal pants they breathe rapidly with their mouth open to increase evaporation from the hot air expelling from the mouth.
Both mammals and birds pant to help stay cool.
Alright now let’s get a little gross; vultures will defecate on their legs for sweet relief from the heat. Since bird poop is pretty liquid, it works much in the same way as sweating -- through you guessed it, evaporative cooling.
For birds that don’t feel like pooping on themselves, there’s something called gular fluttering. This is the vibrating of muscles and bones in the throat. This increases evaporation through membranes in the throat so the more a bird vibrates them, the more its moist throat membranes are exposed to air, allowing for better evaporation.
This can be seen in species like herons, nighthawks, and owls.
But sometimes just getting out of the sun is the best way for wildlife to avoid overheating. Reptiles can’t regulate their body temperatures and their temperature is influenced by their environment. So, if an area is too hot and sunny, they will simply move to an area of shade to cool off.
Finally, bees can help cool their hives in a process called fanning. They fan their wings to circulate the air inside the hive while others place themselves outside the hive entrance to fan fresh air into the hive.