How wildlife beats the heat

Posted 7/27/23

Let’s face it, it’s hot out there. Thankfully, humans have air conditioning. Wild animals are not so fortunate.

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How wildlife beats the heat


Let’s face it, it’s hot out there. This past week we reached temperatures in excess of 90 degrees.

Thankfully, humans have air conditioning on days like these. Wild animals are not so fortunate as they must endure the weather no matter the extreme temperature. We thought you’d like to learn about cooling tactics local Pennsylvania wildlife utilize.

Nothing says summer refreshment like a roll on the ground. On particularly hot days, ground-level is the best place to cool off. During peak heat, many wild animals hide in shaded areas, burrow underground, or find mud to stay cool. By doing this, they conserve energy so they can be more active when the temperatures cool.

Swimming is also a favorite. Wildlife like taking a dip on a hot summer day and a refreshing swim keeps them cool and clean. Many animals seek out ponds, streams, and puddles, but others may happen upon a bird bath set out by kind humans. Refilling your bird bath with fresh, cold water at least every two days can help sustain small animals during a heat wave. Just remember to clean your bird bath on a regular basis to avoid the spread of germs and diseases.

Have you ever seen a squirrel lying down on a flat surface with its legs splayed? This behavior is lovingly nicknamed the “Squirrel Sploot”' and describes the way these silly rodents plop down to take a rest and cool off. By lying on a cold surface, squirrels are able to transfer heat off their bodies and absorb the cold into their skin. Beware, they may be cute, but they’re not looking for a head pat.

Did you know that animals only sweat in small areas? Unlike our quadruped friends, humans sweat all over their bodies, up to three gallons per day. Sweat plays a major role in cooling down humans. Known as evaporative cooling, sweat glands emit liquid that pools on our skin and then evaporates into the air, which cools the body. Many other mammals pant when they’re hot. Through heavy breathing, air rapidly flows over the wet areas of their face, the nose, and the mouth. This airflow allows for faster evaporation of liquid and cools their body.

Furry native wildlife have developed a seasonal shedding cycle to prepare for the heat of summer and the chill of winter. In the springtime, many animals shed their thick winter coats in favor of a short, coarse one. Shorter hair means less insulation and quicker evaporation of sweat. 

Aquatic birds have developed a unique adaptation to help with temperature regulation. Ducks and geese have webbed feet. The thin layers of skin between their toes contain many blood vessels. When they swim, they spread their feet to allow for more blood to flow. In turn, the water cools the blood vessels which, in turn, cools the bird’s overall body temperature quickly and efficiently.

Believe it or not, bugs get hot too! While most insects can’t go for a full-body swim like other critters, some species have found a loophole known as “puddling.” When an insect walks through a shallow pool of water to get their legs wet, they are able to evaporatively cool a large portion of their bodies. This helps to speed up the cooling process of their whole body.  

It’s tough to be a wild animal in the midst of a heat wave. Animals must adapt to environmental changes to survive and climate change is certainly contributing to these extreme temperatures for humans and wildlife. If you see signs of heat distress and dehydration in wildlife such as loss of coordination, excessive panting, lethargy, confusion, and collapsing please contact the Schuylkill Center Wildlife Rehabilitation Center for guidance. 

If you find a wild animal that needs help, contact us at or 215-482-7300, ext. 2. Our lobby is open to the public for animal drop-off 9 a.m.-6 p.m., seven days a week at 304 Port Royal Avenue. We have a small shed opposite our front door that we check daily for patient admissions after hours.

Sydney Glisan

Assistant Director, Wildlife Rehabilitation

Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education