Cuddling penguins and snorkeling alligators: What animals do to stay warm during extreme cold

It's not just humans finding ways to stay warm during this week's historic temperature plunge — our animal friends are too.

Posted: Feb 15, 2021 11:56 AM
Updated: Feb 15, 2021 4:32 PM

It's not just humans finding ways to stay warm during this week's historic temperature plunge — our animal friends are too.

And some of the strategies animal use are pretty cool (pun fully intended).

Animals are classified as either endotherms or ectotherms, which is another way of saying warm-blooded or cold-blooded. Endotherms regulate their body temperature by producing heat within. Birds are a good example.

Ectotherms are the opposite and rely primarily on the surrounding environment to regulate body temperature. Picture a turtle on a log basking in the sunshine on a warm day.

Every animal, whether it's an endotherm or ectotherm, has a plan to survive the cold, said Justin Boyles, a thermoregulation expert and an associate professor at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, Illinois. Some animals migrate before the season to avoid it altogether. Some conserve energy and hibernate until its source of food returns during the warmer months. And others have developed ways to just tough out the harsh conditions that sometimes hit.

The tactics can be fascinating.

Take the wood frog for instance. "These small frogs survive through an adaption that allows them to freeze itself and then thaw itself to safeguard its organs and energy," according to Leah Neal, an associate curator at the Georgia Aquarium.

A freezer and a microwave all in one. How convenient!

What alligators do during extreme cold seems straight from a science-fiction movie. Alligators go into brumation during the cold, which is like a low-scale, short-term hibernation to conserve energy and maintain its body temperature. What's weird about that? When it gets freezing cold, an alligator will stick its nose out of the water to breathe like its snorkeling the beautiful blue waters of the Bahamas. That is what's eerie. You may remember viral images of this alligator from a cold snap in 2018.

Red bats look a lot like leaves when hanging from a tree. During the cold, a red bat will drop to the ground and cover itself with a litter of leaves like a blanket. Given its outer appearance, it's camouflaged quite well and protected from predators. So, it can sleep peacefully.

Manatees are extremely susceptible to the cold. A sea cow can't survive in water temperature below 68 degrees Fahrenheit, according to Manatee Lagoon spokeswoman Brittany DiLoreto. When temperatures begin to drop, manatees will take a vacation to Florida — curling up in the Sunshine State's rivers and springs, and surprisingly, even the warm, clean waters of nearby power plants.

Penguins stay warm through social thermal regulation. This means Mumble from "Happy Feet" and all his friends are huddling and cuddling together to stay warm.

Boyles, the thermoregulation expert, says normally vicious flying squirrels will sometimes show a softer side and huddle with others to make it through a cold snap.

But pets are different. They need help.

Through hundreds and hundreds of years of domestication, most pets have lost the ability to adapt to harsh conditions like wild animals. It's important that pet owners take the necessary steps to protect their four-legged family members during the cold, especially when temperatures drop below freezing.

The Animal Humane Society of Minnesota offers the following suggestions for protecting your indoor and outdoor pets during harsh winter conditions:

  • During severe weather, dogs should go outside only to relieve themselves and cats should be kept indoors at all times.
  • Put Vaseline or doggie shoes on your dogs' paws before walks to protect him/her from sidewalk salt and chemicals; wipe the Vaseline off when back inside.
  • Remove any ice, salt and caked mud from your pet's paws and fur immediately.
  • Check to see if your pet's bed is in a cold or drafty area of your home. If it is, move it to a warmer location.
  • Feed your dog reduced portions to avoid weight gain. Indoor dogs typically receive less exercise during cold weather and therefore may require fewer calories.
  • Outdoor pets typically need more food in cold weather because they must burn more calories to keep warm.
  • Check your pet for frostbite, especially on paws and ears, and make sure your pet's water is never frozen.
  • Clean up all antifreeze spills. One lick of the sweet-tasting fluid can be fatal to an animal.
  • Before starting your car's engine, knock on the hood as cats have been known to climb into engine compartments for warmth.
  • Keep an eye out for signs that your pet is experiencing hypothermia. Symptoms include a weak pulse, dilated pupils, decreased heart rate, extreme shivering, pale or blue mucous membranes, body temperature below 95 degrees, stupor and unconsciousness.

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 996341

Reported Deaths: 16245
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion1343262101
Lake658231151
Allen57160791
Hamilton45963460
St. Joseph43954607
Elkhart35546503
Vanderburgh31975473
Tippecanoe27694256
Johnson24821440
Hendricks23647353
Porter22735362
Madison18538404
Clark18383248
Vigo17274300
Monroe15117197
LaPorte14987249
Delaware14931256
Howard14574286
Kosciusko12166147
Hancock11597175
Bartholomew11447179
Warrick11225188
Floyd10983214
Wayne10840248
Grant9898217
Morgan9361176
Boone8819115
Dubois8210129
Dearborn815492
Henry8107150
Noble7944106
Marshall7786134
Cass7462119
Lawrence7379168
Shelby7115114
Jackson691788
Gibson6480113
Harrison641591
Huntington630299
Knox6269105
DeKalb623796
Montgomery6184109
Miami586595
Putnam573477
Clinton567171
Whitley558055
Steuben550473
Wabash5250101
Jasper520475
Jefferson504695
Ripley492485
Adams472773
Daviess4596112
Scott433968
Greene421196
Wells419787
Clay418460
White414261
Decatur4118101
Fayette402186
Jennings383260
Posey374243
LaGrange352078
Washington352049
Randolph339999
Spencer336442
Fountain331858
Sullivan326652
Starke310868
Owen310169
Fulton304566
Orange290562
Jay278445
Perry264452
Franklin262742
Carroll258232
Rush257232
Vermillion254254
Parke229726
Pike227343
Tipton225659
Blackford187840
Pulaski181155
Crawford158122
Newton155648
Benton150117
Brown144047
Martin137319
Switzerland133911
Warren120116
Union106615
Ohio84012
Unassigned0532

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 1494160

Reported Deaths: 23327
CountyCasesDeaths
Franklin1623021662
Cuyahoga1442512412
Hamilton1042291409
Montgomery729771240
Summit607921094
Lucas55462904
Butler50923707
Stark457361053
Lorain34972568
Warren32373369
Mahoning30168672
Clermont27861321
Lake26543434
Delaware23920162
Licking23442283
Trumbull22420552
Fairfield22117241
Greene22014311
Medina21673305
Clark19567349
Richland18260280
Portage17616247
Wood17174220
Allen15672269
Miami15305296
Muskingum14481174
Columbiana13656263
Wayne13538263
Tuscarawas12415298
Marion11760175
Scioto11336154
Pickaway11264141
Erie10613180
Ross10425196
Lawrence9638137
Hancock9504149
Ashtabula9410197
Belmont9086197
Geauga8795157
Jefferson8455191
Huron8193139
Union809156
Washington8009137
Sandusky7677145
Athens767072
Knox7571138
Darke7530151
Seneca7184144
Ashland6776125
Auglaize664896
Shelby6392111
Brown627382
Crawford6159130
Mercer606793
Defiance6059102
Fulton590596
Highland587199
Madison585776
Clinton575190
Logan569092
Guernsey568467
Preble5640121
Putnam5238108
Williams516784
Perry511761
Champaign502971
Jackson495470
Ottawa477886
Coshocton468382
Morrow449056
Pike429962
Fayette420760
Adams409987
Gallia409865
Hardin409276
Van Wert362378
Henry357171
Holmes3549122
Hocking350378
Wyandot316561
Carroll295459
Paulding275145
Meigs257849
Monroe212153
Noble195646
Morgan190132
Harrison177842
Vinton161724
Unassigned05
Fort Wayne
Clear
45° wxIcon
Hi: 64° Lo: 42°
Feels Like: 40°
Angola
Clear
45° wxIcon
Hi: 63° Lo: 42°
Feels Like: 42°
Huntington
Clear
45° wxIcon
Hi: 64° Lo: 41°
Feels Like: 40°
Decatur
Clear
45° wxIcon
Hi: 64° Lo: 42°
Feels Like: 40°
Van Wert
Clear
45° wxIcon
Hi: 64° Lo: 43°
Feels Like: 40°
Sunday is another cool day with breezy conditions and plenty of sunshine.
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