Every year, temperatures continue to rise around the globe. For many animal species, this change is devastating. It can stress both their environment and bodies. However, some species have already adapted to survive extreme temperatures.
Animals that live in barren deserts and near hot sea vents have evolved to survive even the most uncomfortable conditions. Read on to find out how their adaptations can tell us about what it takes to keep cool and hydrated as the temperatures rise.
Camels survive in the most extreme places, such as the Gobi Desert in China, North African deserts, the Middle East, and Australia. There are two types of camels: Dromedary (one hump) and Bactrian (two humps). The camel has several adaptations that make it a superb example of living in extremes.
First, a camel’s nose takes water from its exhaled breath and reabsorbs the droplets into its body. Secondly, a camel’s hump stores fat they can use during tough conditions. Camels can survive around one week without water and several months without food. The hump also helps with thermoregulation by releasing heat on a sweltering day.
Their coats are a form of insulation, protecting them from heat. In colder areas, they can grow a thick coat for winter and then shed it during the summer. Their feet, knees, elbows, and sternums are leathery and heat-resistant. This keeps them from burning when they lie on the sand.
The tough little Julimes pupfish lives in El Pandeno, a hot spring in Julimes, Chihuahua, Mexico. Temperatures in this water reach up to 114 degrees Fahrenheit, enough to boil most other fish alive.
Many species of pupfish tolerate the extremes. During the Ice Age, they lived in large lakes, but as the Earth warmed, these lakes dried up, leaving pupfish in isolated waters where these species learned to adapt. The Julimes pupfish is in danger of extinction, however, due to low genetic diversity.
Living along hydrothermal vents in the Pacific Ocean, Pompeii Worms survive in heat up to 221 degrees Fahrenheit. A bacteria coating allows them to redistribute the heat along their body, keeping them from overheating.
These 6-inch-long worms live at a depth of about 5,000-11,500 feet. They are light gray with red tentacle-like gills. They live in tubes near the vents and come out to feed on bacteria. They scuttle back and forth between the cold and hot waters, mixing the two, which helps them to take in nutrients and oxygen while also regulating their temperatures.
Scientists discovered these creatures in the 1980s, so there is still much to learn about how they survive in such extreme heat.
Tardigrades, also known as water bears, are microscopic animals that live around the world in a variety of environments.
The world’s smallest animal can survive the most extreme conditions, including temperatures below -458 degrees Fahrenheit, high salinity, the vacuum of space, radiation, and temperatures upward of 302 degrees Fahrenheit.
There are two ways the tardigrade increases its survival rate. One, it can dry itself out into a form of stasis, called a tun. This is an adaptation used to survive extreme environmental changes. Two, scientists believe the tardigrades also have a hyperactive DNA repair response and a high-performance osmoregulation.
Scientists can learn a lot about surviving extremes by studying these fascinating creatures.
The Thorny Devil, or Moloch, is a desert-dwelling lizard in Australia. It has adapted over the last couple of million years to be a heat-surviving expert, withstanding heat up to 122 degrees Fahrenheit.
These lizards can drink water from their skin. At night, as the dew covers the ground and their bodies, their capillaries absorb the water. This helps them to stay hydrated even in the driest of circumstances.
They remain burrowed in the sand for the day to keep cool, only coming out at night to feed on ants. They are extremely cautious lizards with a perfectly camouflaged body for their environment.
Somali Wild Asses
Somali wild asses are critically endangered members of the equid family. They live in the hot deserts of Somalia.
They survive the heat by grazing during dusk and dawn, the coolest part of the day. They also can go 2-3 days without drinking water, which is much longer than other equids. They use their large ears to dissipate the heat of the desert and can lose almost a third of their body weight in water and still live.
Yet, they prefer to stay no further than 20 miles away from a water source. Somali wild asses often live alone or in small herds because they need to conserve resources to survive.
The largest living bird, the ostrich, is another animal that can survive extreme heat. They live in North Africa, Morocco, Sudan, Syria, and Arabia. They can adapt to temperature fluctuations and tolerate temperatures of around 104 degrees Fahrenheit.
They can live without water for several days. To help with the heat, they pant and sweat like humans to regulate their body temperature.
Their feathers help to insulate them and protect them from the sun. Also, their long legs and wings help redistribute their heat, giving them some relief.
Since 1880, the Earth’s temperature has risen a total of 2 degrees Fahrenheit, and although that doesn’t seem like much, this warming has larger implications. Global warming means changes to the environment and added stress on animals.
Animals that have adapted to survive in the most extreme heat can provide scientists with information about what it takes to endure these rising temperatures and offer clues about the future of wildlife as we know it.