How Nature Keeps Cool

Posted Apr 7, 2017

The Internet. Space Travel. Chemical Engineering. Indoor Plumbing.

What do they all have in common? 

They are a testament to how much Mother Nature has not accomplished. When you put our accomplishments side by side, you might wonder how she’s kept the job for so long.

We have colossal, brawny V8 engines in rugged trucks that cross vast distances in mere hours. She has …legs. We have genetically modified organisms that produce scrumptious apples the size of five men’s heads that could feed entire villages! She has… seeds. We have entire buildings outfitted with cool, refreshing air, the giver of life, the bringer of all that is good and icy! She has… wind.

Now – wait a minute. Mother Nature has a bit more than just the wind to keep the Earth’s residents cool. To be quite honest, she’s been working on keeping animals cool for a good, long time. Animals have developed some pretty ingenious ways to stave off the heat, and the truth is that there might still be something that can be learned from Mama Natch.

Tree Huggin’ Koala

Koala hugging a branch
The ratio of tree to koala is
dangerously askew, but the
heat transfer principle is mostly
at work here.

The furry koala clings to a tree while the Australian sun threatens . We cringe at the thought of walking round in that sort of heat, but the koala ambles up and down the tree, exactly content right where it is. That’s because it’s just gotta hug a tree. It’s this tree-huggery that acts as its own personal cooling system.

During the unbearable Australian summer of 2009, the koala population was in decline because of the sticky, sweltering heat. A certain number of koalas could manage the heat more effectively than others, meaning that there must have been mechanisms at work keeping some koala body temperatures lower.

This was a more interesting discovery than it seems, because the fur that covers a koala is really good at retaining heat, which is really bad for fighting it. You think you’re dying in heat when you’re laying around in your underwear? Try doing the same thing in a fur coat. Scientists figured that if a koala needed to cool itself off, it would want its belly exposed to the air – but they kept on hugging trees. After much experimentation, scientists discovered that hugging trees did a good job of keeping them cool. How does it work?

Some tree species of trees can be up to 5 degrees cooler than the air when it gets hot.

When the koala presses its belly up against the tree trunk, the animal’s heat gets transferred into the tree. Not only can it cool a koala and save its life, but doing this negates the need for water by up to 50%!

Be More Koala-Like:

You don’t have to go around hugging trees (unless it’s your thing), but you might think about hugging a bag of ice. The principle at work here is that when you touch something colder than you, your heat gets transferred out – even if it’s just a few degrees colder than you. Stuff a pillow in the freezer for a few hours and then hug it on the couch and veg out to old 3rd Rock from the Sun reruns! 

I’m All Ears

A jackrabbit sitting in a field.
Look at those massive, presence-announcing ears.
Good for cooling though.

It always seemed like the jackrabbit’s massive ears were something of a cruel joke. Blessed with massive feet that sped it away from danger, and cursed with just-as-massive ears that burst forth toward the sky like antennae that broadcast the message ‘Here I am!’ for a mile in every direction.

Those ears have very specific jobs. Its ears play an integral role in keeping the animal cool, even if they look ridiculous. In fact, the jack rabbit’s first moniker was in reference to its ears, which was the ‘jackass rabbit’ which was then shortened for fear of the hurt feelings of hundreds of millions of jackrabbits – but on to the cooling.

Those ears are loaded with blood vessels, and when they are exposed to temperatures, like being in the shade, that are below the rabbit’s body temperature, they dilate. This natural response helps lower the rabbit’s body temperature, cooling it off.

Are you wishing you had a pair of ludicrously sized ears now?

Temperature Points:

You might not have huge ears that can cool you down, but the focus is that there is a specific point on this animal that if cooled, helps keep the entire animal cool too. We have such places on our body. Your wrists, your temples, your neck and your forehead are such points. Keep yourself cooler by putting something cold on them frequently.

Dirty Birds

You might furrow your brow at some of Mama Nature’s evolutionary ideas – or gag – but some birds are known to cool themselves off by pooping. Ahem, on their legs. It might gross you out, but some species of storks and vultures poop on their legs. So, what’s the science behind it?

It works the same way as sweating. As the poop dries, it carries away the bird’s heat, effectively lowering its body temperature.

The Takeaway:

There is no takeaway here. None at all. Don’t read into it. It’s just interesting.

Estivation

A snail in it's shell sitting on a leaf.
Don’t let its appearance fool you. A snail practising
estivation looks very, very similar to everything else it
does – which looks like absolutely nothing.

When you’re stuck in the heat without an electric fan, you know how uncomfortable it can be to move around. The animal kingdom is all too aware of this fact, and it engages in its own version of couch-potatification called ‘estivation’. This is what it’s called when an animal sleeps to escape the heat. Estivation slows down an animal’s metabolism, resulting in a lessened need for food, which can be scarce when it gets too hot. Some animals estivate for the entire season.

And you thought you lazed around on the couch too much…

Move Less:

The more you move around, the more heat you generate. Take frequent breaks if you’re stuck working in the sun.

Mother Nature has had millions of years to perfect these methods, and we think she’s done a pretty darn good job. You might disagree – that’s okay. In that case, call us and we’ll outfit you with the latest and greatest in electric air conditioning.

Milani Blog

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