The temperatures are dropping as we approach the middle of winter. We hope you’re staying warm this season! Animals, especially those that live in freezing marine climates, unfortunately don’t have the luxury of clothes, so how do they stay warm?
Many birds bear the cold weather seasonally or all year round! Some birds, like song birds, puff up their feathers to stay warm. Coastal birds like gulls can stand in icy waters because of a neat blood flow system called “countercurrent exchange.” This means that warm blood from the bird’s heart moves into the feet, as cold blood from the feet move into the core to warm up. This constant exchange of cold and warm blood helps keep their body temperature stable! Birds that dive into the water, like penguins, have really cool adaptations too. Penguins can live in temperatures 120F below 0! These birds have lots of overlapping feathers and a layer of down at the base. The black feathers on their back help absorb heat, as well. Paired with thick layers of fat and huddling together, these birds are ready for the cold!
Whales, like the beluga, live in some pretty cold waters. Even though whales are warm-blooded mammals like us, their metabolisms are much faster than ours to help keep them toasty. Whales also have up to a foot of thick layers of blubber. When there isn’t an abundance of food, whales can even live off their blubber as a source of energy!
Other mammals like seals, polar bears, and otters also can withstand the cold. Seals have blubber, waterproof fur, and comparatively small head to body size. A small head and a large body means that most of the body is insulted with blubber. Polar bears also have thick layers of fat and fur. Two other adaptations these bears have are specialized hollow hairs that trap heat inside and black skin to absorb sunlight. Otters rarely leave the water and don’t have the same thick layer of fat that most other cold-climate mammals have. Otters rely entirely on their fur to keep them warm. Two types of hairs make sure that these animals don’t get cold! Guard hairs are waterproof and are each surrounded by 10-100 under hairs that are fluffy and trap a layer of air next to the skin. This method is 4 times more effective than blubber! They also eat a ton! This helps keep their high metabolisms cranking!
The Greenland shark lives in the North Atlantic and Arctic Oceans and is one of the largest living species of shark growing up to 21 feet long! That is a big animal to keep warm. To combat the cold water, the Greenland shark has the slowest swim speed and tail-beat frequency for its size, along with a slow metabolism and long life. They only swim up to 1.6 mph, so it’s incredible that they are predators! These sharks also grow at a very slow rate, so their metabolism doesn’t take up too much energy, growing only about a centimeter per year. The oldest Greenland shark recorded was about 390 years old! They don’t even reach adulthood until 150 years!
These animals have some pretty amazing ways to stay warm in extreme conditions! As much as we would all like a thick fur coat and a layer of blubber, for now we will continue to rely on our coats and scarves. Until then…we will continue to day dream of warmer days! PS summer camp registration opens February 1! Come join us when the temperature warms up and summer rolls around!