Monday 20 August 2018

5 weird ways to keep cool in the hot weather, taking inspiration from animals

Would you like to roll in the mud?

(Ian Nicholson/PA)
(Ian Nicholson/PA)

By Nilima Marshall, Press Association

As the country continues to sizzle in the hot weather – with temperatures expected to climb to 31C in some areas – keeping cool is proving trickier than imagined.

If ice lollies, chilled water and dips in the pool have failed you, maybe it is time to take inspiration from the animal kingdom and find new ways to beat the heat (or maybe not).

1. Vibrating throat muscles

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Things may get a little awkward if you want to try this out on public transport, but birds have a neat little trick that helps them cool down.

It involves vibrating the muscles and bones in the throat. The term for this is gular fluttering and its purpose is to help regulate body temperature by causing water to evaporate in the throat membranes when exposed to air.

Pelicans, doves, owls and nighthawks are among many birds that use gular fluttering.

As Laura Erickson of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology tells bird conservation organisation the National Audubon Society, gular fluttering makes birds “much more efficient about water and water loss”.

2. Rolling in the mud

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If that does not float your boat, then you could take a cue from pigs, hippos and wild boars and try rolling in the mud instead.

The science behind the mud bath is that it allows water to evaporate from the skin and carry the heat with it, cooling down the body.

Also, as water in mud evaporates more slowly than clear water, it means the animals can stay cool for longer.

It is probably worth pointing out that unlike us, pigs don’t have sweat glands. Although research from 2011 suggests that pigs’ penchant for wallowing in the mud is more of a wellbeing choice as much as it is about temperature regulation.

The theory is that functional sweat glands did not evolve in the animals because wallowing was a part of their lifestyle.

3. Sleeping when it’s hot

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You may be all too familiar with heat-induced insomnia but one way to keep cool would be to sleep during the hottest part of the day.

It’s popular in the animal kingdom – crocodiles, snails and desert tortoises do it. This state of dormancy is known as aestivation – where animals sleep through the heat – the exact opposite of hibernation.

Aestivation helps animals survive by slowing their metabolism, which means they don’t need to eat as much during hot months.

It also helps prevent creatures like snails from drying out.

Some amphibians like the lungfish and the cane toad move underground to aestivate where it is cooler and more humid.

4. Panting

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You’ve definitely seen dogs do it.

Panting allows pups to rapidly expel hot air and draw in cooler air. When this cool air passes through the moist lining of the dogs’ nasal passages, mouth and lungs, it brings down the body temperature.

Dogs have a typical resting respiratory rate of 18 to 34 breaths per minute, but this rate can get significantly faster while panting.

They also sweat through their paw pads, but it is panting that circulates the air that helps them cool down.

Pooches also pant when they are startled by loud noises such as thunder – and in those instances may feel the need to hide under the bed.

5. Shedding

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During the hot weather, some animals – like cats and dogs – shed their dense coat of winter fur for a lighter option.

Shedding, which is triggered by hormonal changes, allows less heat to be trapped in the animal’s body and helps it cool off.

Through thousands of years of evolution, humans lost their thick body hair, allowing us to make technological advances like making clothes and building fires and reducing the need for that extra insulation.

But those looking to reducing body heat even more could try their luck with the razor – although chances are we don’t have enough body hair for it to meaningfully affect our temperature.

Press Association

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