Animals have unique ways to deal with heat

July 13, 2014 

A grizzly bear cools off in a pool of water at Northwest Trek Wildlife Park.

NORTHWEST TREK WILDLIFE PARK

A grizzly bear lumbers through the forest, its 4-inch claws digging into dusty patches of earth, sunlight streaming off its prominent hump as the 700-pound mammal enters a clearing. On this warm summer day, the brown bear is seeking water.

Elsewhere in the state, a pack of gray wolves trots through wooded lands, tongues hanging out, panting to cool themselves in soaring temperatures.

And to the north in British Columbia, a herd of woodland caribou retreats deeper into the cool reaches of the forest. A wildfire burns below them.

These three endangered species, like all animals, use their innate senses and bodies’ natural temperature regulators to beat the heat, flee danger and survive in often hostile places, where habitat destruction and predators threaten their existence.

If it’s only heat they must conquer, their coping mechanisms are often similar to what we humans do: find and drink water; seek shade; relax and conserve energy when the sun is high and the air is hot.

Everyone in the animal kingdom finds some refuge or has an interesting biological mechanism to help cool them.

A cool dip in a pool? Yep. Moose and elk will do that. Find a lake and wade in up to their shoulders. Most people think all cats hate the water. But tigers don’t. They’ll often cool off in a swimming hole.

Get under a rock? Sure. Snakes and other reptiles will get out of the sun this way, just as humans on a hike might sit under a rocky ledge or recline in the shade of a boulder.

Wallow in the dust? Yes, again. Many animals do this in various ways. Mountain goats escape the heat by finding shady spots on north-facing slopes and creating extensive dust wallows. Bison also wallow in dirt or mud on hot days.

How about a mud bath? Certainly. Some elephants use their trunks to first spray water on themselves, then scoop up dirt and fling that over their hides. Others find a muddy depression and wallow in it.

Tongues out? No surprise here. Like those gray wolves, other animals, such as coyotes, foxes and your favorite doggy best friend, pant to keep cool, too. Panting is a way of dissipating heat by evaporating water in the mouth and upper respiratory tract.

Going potty on the legs? Well, this is a surprise — and has a definite yuck factor. But turkey vultures do it. Evaporation from the water in the feces or urine helps cool these large birds, which stand as tall as 2 feet and have wingspans of up to 6 feet.

Endangered or common, large land mammals or small reptiles, amphibians, invertebrates or birds, every body has to cool down sometime in some way.

But many animals must beat the odds of extinction as well as the heat.

Loss of habitat, human encroachment on traditional territories, poaching and changing climates all pose challenges for many animals and can endanger species across the globe.

In the Northwest, many animals are classified as endangered or threatened.

The state Department of Fish and Wildlife website lists nearly four dozen species as endangered or threatened here. Among them are the fisher, gray wolf, grizzly bear, lynx and Oregon spotted frog.

So when you think about getting out of from under the sun’s burning rays and finding a tall, cool drink, consider that you have it relatively easy. The weather is not — by a long stretch — the only enemy of many species.

To learn more about how animals beat the heat, go to tinyurl.com/ kol92pd.

To learn more about endangered and threatened species in Washington, go to wdfw.wa.gov/conservation/ endangered.

Want to see animals beat the heat and view endangered species at the same time?

Endangered Species Weekend runs Saturday and July 20 at Northwest Trek Wildlife Park, north of Eatonville. Fisher, gray wolves, grizzly bears and Canada lynx are among endangered and threatened species on exhibit. The wildlife park also is involved in a variety of conservation programs, including working with various partners to repopulate trumpeter swans into their Northwest range and helping to save the endangered Oregon spotted frog.

Some of Northwest Trek’s animals will receive special treats during the weekend. Visitors can make an animal mask of a grizzly bear, Northern spotted owl or raccoon and answer questions about animal survival as they walk around the wildlife park. They can turn their cards in at the Cheney Family Discovery Center for a small prize.

Bellingham Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service