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5 wild ways desert animals keep cool


Photo by Santiago Medem licensed by CC BY-SA 2.0

Who are some of the toughest animals out there? Desert animals. Why? Because they have a never-ending battle with the heat.

These remarkable animals have evolved to live in extreme conditions. Here's how they keep cool.

Be like a turkey vulture and wet yourself

flying turkey vulture

Photo by Andrew Hall licenced by CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Turkey vultures and some stork species wet themselves. In fact, they are known to keep cool by peeing on their legs and feet. And when we say “pee” it's actually a liquid mixture of feces and urine.

Because it is so hot out, the droppings will slowly evaporate from the bird, helping them keep their body temperature in check. This is known as "urohydrosis" (say "you-roe-hi-DROH-sis"). Once the liquid droppings evaporate, a white chalky residue is left behind coating the bird’s legs (and feet) which provide additional protection from the sun.

Be like a thorny devil and use your skin to suck up water

Australian thorny devil walking on stones

Photo by Steve Shattuck licensed by CC BY 2.0

Australia’s thorny devil lizard is able use its skin to suck in the littlest rain — even if it’s just catching the morning dew on a blade of grass. These lizards have special grooves between their thorny armour. Once the water gets into those grooves, it is drawn in by capillary action — think blotting spilled juice with a single sheet of paper towel — and channeled all the way to the lizards’ mouth. It’s like having a maze of drinking straws within their scales!

It doesn’t matter where the water falls on their body, it has only one destination: the mouth. Only three known lizard species from three continents have evolved their skin to make the best of a dry situation.

Be like a kangaroo and enjoy a spit bath

kangaroo licking its forearms

petermooy / 123RF Stock

When the sun is at its hottest, kangaroos are usually found lying low and chilling out. Kangaroos lack natural sweat glands, but they do have a special network of blood vessels in their forearms. When a kangaroo needs to cool down, they lick their lick their forearms until the fur is soaking wet. As their saliva evaporates, it quickly cools down their body temperatures through the evaporation of their saliva.

Be like an African bullfrog and live underground until the rain season comes 

Photo by Josh More licensed by CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Whether it’s a drought or if it’s sweltering hot, this tough little amphibian knows that it won’t survive unless it goes underground to tough it out and wait for weather conditions to change. Sometimes it takes months, sometimes years. The bullfrog uses its hind legs to dig an underground chamber, then sheds several layers of skin to create a hard cocoon. The cocoon is especially important as it locks in the moisture to prevent the frog from drying up.

During this time, the frog goes into a hibernation state called estivation, which is triggered by excessive heat, or drought. In the cocoon it will be physically inactive: the breathing and metabolism slow, and the body temperature drops so it will be able to conserve energy to survive a long periods without food. When the rain finally comes, the cocoon softens and the frog awakens!

Be like a cape ground squirrel and shade yourself with your tail

huge slimy green african bullfrog

Photo by Sibylle Stofer licensed by CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

The Cape ground squirrels, who prefer to live in dry conditions in Africa, use their fluffy tails as a portable parasol when they are out of their burrows. A nifty party trick for a rodent.