SYDNEY, 18 Jan 2023:
Echidnas cope with heat by blowing snot bubbles and pressing their undersides against cooler surfaces – techniques that could help them cope with global warming, a finding by an Australian study published today.
Thermal imagery showed that spiky egg-laying mammals blow bubbles over the tips of their nose, which work to cool their body temperature.
“Echidnas blow bubbles from their nose, which burst over the nose tip and wet it. As the moisture evaporates, it cools their blood, meaning their nose tip works as an evaporative window,” the study’s lead author Dr Christine Cooper, from Curtin’s School of Molecular and Life Sciences, said in a statement.
While echidnas’ spines provide flexible insulation to retain body heat, “they can lose heat from the spineless areas on their underside and legs, meaning these areas work as thermal windows that allow heat exchange,” she added.
The creatures can’t pant, sweat or lick to cool down, so it was thought rising temperatures could put them at risk. However the research showed they “can be active under hotter conditions than previously thought.”
“Understanding the thermal biology of echidnas is also important to predict how they might respond to a warming climate,” Dr Cooper said.
“Our work highlights how technological advances that allow for non-contact study of animal physiology, such as the thermal vision used in this study, can give us a better understanding of the physiological capacity of animals in their natural environment.”
The four species of echidnas – the short-beaked species found in Australia and New Guinea and the three long-beaked species endemic to New Guinea – as well as the platypus are the only living montremes or mammals that lay eggs.