15 Incredible Ways Animals Stay Warm When It's Chilly

istock
istock

Winter is coming, and while humans have the option of adding layers of clothing or cranking up the furnace, animals have to rely on their biology or resources to stay warm in the wild. Here are some of the ways our furry and scaly friends survive the cold. 

1. LEANING BACK

In addition to having a specialized circulatory system in their feet and flippers, emperor penguins often lean back onto their heels to get their toes off the ice. Their wedge-shaped tails provide stability, and there is no risk of losing heat because blood doesn’t flow through their tail feathers.

2. INCREASING BLOOD GLUCOSE LEVELS

Some reptiles and amphibians like the European common lizard have the ability to increase their glucose levels during the colder months so that lethal ice crystals won’t form and puncture their blood vessels. The process is reversed as temperatures rise.

3. RELAXING IN HOT SPRINGS

Most of the photos on the Internet of Japanese macaques show the pink-faced snow monkeys grooming one another in one of the country’s many natural spas. Known as onsens, the hot springs have become big tourist attractions, which has not deterred the monkeys from returning every winter.

4. MAKING ANTIFREEZE

Scientists have found that Alaskan wood frogs and other species take hibernation one step further: Their bodies freeze during the winter. Glucose in the blood prevents their cells from freezing and prevents dehydration, but all bodily processes (including heart and brain function) stop during this time. According to scientists, the frogs are essentially dead—until spring comes, temperatures rise, and the frogs spring to life again. 

5. BUILDING SNOW BUNKERS

Burrowing into compressed snow traps air and creates an insulated pocket, just like how igloos work. Lemmings and other small animals build tunnel systems to stay safe from the wind, cold, and predators. 

6. SHUTTING DOWN THEIR LUNGS

Scientists previously thought that freshwater turtles slipped into comas during cold winters, but a 2013 study found that the reptiles still responded to stimuli. Short of going completely comatose, the turtles slow their metabolisms and self-anesthetize, shutting down organs until warmer days return. 

7. GROUP HUDDLE

What’s better than one body covered in layers of warm feathers? Try hundreds of them, standing flipper-to-flipper and moving in unison. Emperor penguins know that huddles are not just for football—they’re also a really good way to share the warmth. The wave of moving tuxedo-clad birds has been compared to a traffic jam, with the slightest movement by one penguin causing a ripple throughout the crowd. Research has also shown that the penguins are not crammed together, but instead stand barely touching so that no penguin’s feathers get compressed.

8. JUST KEEP FLYING

Some birds, like the Alpine swift, head for warmer climates in the winter. A study found that the swifts are able to stay in the air for six months at a time without touching the ground, subsisting on aerial plankton—a mix of small insects, bacteria, and spores found in the air—and forgoing sleep (scientists are divided as to whether the birds skip sleep completely, or catch some shut-eye during short periods spent gliding, rather than flapping). By the time the birds return to their starting location, they have six months to rest and refuel before they start their journey again. 

9. BUILDING FAT RESERVES

Some animals eat more in the summer months so that they can store fat for the winter. The fat-tailed dwarf lemur, as the name suggests, uses its tail as a fat bank, increasing its body weight by as much as 40 percent. 

10. DEEP SLEEP

Unlike other hibernating animals, North American black bears have the special ability to lower their metabolism without a dramatic drop in body temperature. What’s better than a toasty nap on a cold winter day? 

11. STEALING HEAT FROM OTHERS

In a process called kleptothermy, reptiles like the tuatara steal the body heat of animals from completely different species. One study observed that the animals entered the nests of seabirds at night while the owners were still home so that they could benefit from the birds’ higher body temperature. 

12. RELY ON HUMANS

Cats caught out in the cold often seek shelter under cars because the engines are an enticing source of heat (so always check before driving off). Smaller critters also enter homes in the winter to mooch off of the free warmth inside the walls. 

13. GROWING INSULATION

It’s common for animals, from domestic dogs to wild foxes, to grow thicker fur as added insulation. It’s easier to grow than it is to get rid of—creatures like the elk of Colorado have to scratch or lick off their winter coats once the weather warms up. 

14. GOING TORPID

Unlike hibernation, which is a long-term state, the torpor state happens in waves and can be frequent. Some species of birds enter torpor every day in the cold months to stay alive by lowering their heart and metabolic rates.

15. SHIVERING

Some animals shiver to stay warm just like we do. And it’s not only the warm-blooded ones—bees also shiver by vibrating their muscles and keeping their wings still.

Fossilized Fat Shows 550-Million-Year-Old Sea Creature May Have Been the World's First Animal

Ilya Bobrovskiy, the Australian National University
Ilya Bobrovskiy, the Australian National University

A bizarre sea creature whose fossils look like a cross between a leaf and a fingerprint may be Earth's oldest known animal, dating back 558 million years.

As New Scientist reports, researchers from the Australian National University (ANU) made a fortunate find in a remote region of Russia: a Dickinsonia fossil with fat molecules still attached. These odd, oval-shaped creatures were soft-bodied, had rib structures running down their sides, and grew about 4.5 feet long. They were as “strange as life on another planet,” researchers wrote in the abstract of a new paper published in the journal Science.

Another variety of fossil
Ilya Bobrovskiy, the Australian National University

Although Dickinsonia fossils were first discovered in South Australia in 1946, researchers lacked the organic matter needed to classify this creature. "Scientists have been fighting for more than 75 years over what Dickinsonia and other bizarre fossils of the Edicaran biota were: giant single-celled amoeba, lichen, failed experiments of evolution, or the earliest animals on Earth,” senior author Jochen Brocks, an associate professor at ANU, said in a statement.

With the discovery of cholesterol molecules—which are found in almost all animals, but not in other organisms like bacteria and amoebas—scientists can say that Dickinsonia were animals. The creatures swam the seas during the Ediacaran Period, 635 million to 542 million years ago. More complex organisms like mollusks, worms, and sponges didn’t emerge until 20 million years later.

The fossil with fat molecules was found on cliffs near the White Sea in an area of northwest Russia that was so remote that researchers had to take a helicopter to get there. Collecting the samples was a death-defying feat, too.

“I had to hang over the edge of a cliff on ropes and dig out huge blocks of sandstone, throw them down, wash the sandstone, and repeat this process until I found the fossils I was after,” lead author Ilya Bobrovskiy of ANU said. Considering that this find could change our understanding of Earth’s earliest life forms, it seems the risk was worth it.

[h/t New Scientist]

Cats Take Turns Napping With the 75-Year-Old Star Volunteer at This Animal Shelter

iStock
iStock

The star volunteer at Safe Haven Pet Sanctuary in Wisconsin doesn't have to do much to make a cat's day. According to Huffington Post, Terry Lauerman, a 75-year-old from Green Bay, visits his local shelter every day to take a cat nap with the residents.

Safe Haven is a cage-free, no-kill animal shelter that gives a home to special needs cats at risk of being put down. When Lauerman first showed up at Safe Haven earlier this year, he didn't talk to the shelter employees about becoming a volunteer—instead, he waltzed in and started grooming the cats with a brush he had brought himself. After this continued for a while, the shelter decided to make his volunteer status official.

Lauerman has since settled into a daily routine. After brushing the cats, he tends to fall asleep with them, and after an hour or so he wakes up and finds a different cat to nod off with. Safe Haven recently shared his story on their Facebook page: "We are so lucky to have a human like Terry," the post reads. "He brushes all of the cats, and can tell you about all of their likes and dislikes. He also accidentally falls asleep most days. We don't mind—Cats need this!"

The post has since been liked by over 68,000 people and shared more than 18,000 times. Safe Haven wrote in the comments, "When Terry comes in today, I'm going to have to tell him that he's famous. I can almost guarantee he'll just laugh and say "Oh, really?"...shake his head...and then go back to brushing cats." Lauerman is also encouraging fans of the viral post to show their appreciation by donating to the shelter, which ends up with more medical bills than many shelters that don't have cats with disabilities. You can contribute cash here or make a donation through the shelter's Amazon wish list.

[h/t Huffington Post]

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