Washington summers are beastly. Between the heat and humidity, it’s hard to keep from wilting like a flower. Of course, given how inventive humans are, we can beat the heat with air conditioning, an afternoon at the pool or a double scoop of rocky road ice cream.
But what about the rest of the animal kingdom? What tricks do animals have up their sleeves (or should that be fur) to keep cool?
Shedding: One characteristic of being a mammal is having hair on your body. Some mammals, such as dolphins, have only whiskers (and those fall out shortly after birth). Most have a dense coat of fur. During winter, fur thickens to protect animals from the cold. The opposite occurs in warm weather. By shedding, less heat is “trapped” in the animal’s body, allowing it to cool off.
Hiding: On a scorching summer day, you might hide from the sun under an umbrella. Animals do the same thing, only they use natural umbrellas in the form of foliage. They also hide under rocks, fallen trees and any other structure that blocks the sun’s rays. Some animals stay hidden all day and come out at night to feed.
Sweating: When you sweat, water rises to the surface of your skin. As the water evaporates, it cools the skin slightly. Most animals don’t sweat. Horses are an exception to this rule. So are dogs, except they sweat only through their paws, which isn’t enough to keep cool.
Panting: When you exhale, heat leaves the body with your breath. Dogs, cats and lots of other animals cool off by panting. Birds do it as well, so if you see an open-mouthed bird on a hot day, there’s a good chance it’s panting. However, unlike dogs, birds don’t have a big, sloppy tongue hanging out of their mouths.
Pooping: Bird poop is gooey because it contains lots of water. Storks and vultures take advantage of this by pooping on their legs during the summer. When the water in the poop evaporates, it provides a cooling effect.
Swimming: Jumping into a swimming pool not only cools you off, but it’s also lots of fun. Animals do the next best thing: They seek out ponds, rivers, streams or any body of water they can find. Some, such as pigs, prefer mud because it keeps them cool longer and protects their skin from insects.
Radiating heat: Elephants and hares have very large ears compared with their body sizes. During the summer, more blood circulates through the blood vessels in their ears, releasing heat into the environment.
Sleeping: Bears hibernate to avoid the challenging conditions of winter. Some animals use a variation of this technique to avoid the hot, dry conditions of summer. The name for this state is “estivation.” The water-holding frog avoids the harsh summer months by burrowing into sandy ground and protecting itself inside a “cocoon” made of mucus.
Eating cold treats: Many zoo animals get cold treats during the summer. Examples include frozen fruit for bears, frozen fish for sea otters and blood ice pops for lions.