by Elizabeth Trickey, assorted pics by author, Jennifer Howard and Angela van Breemen
Approx. 3 minute read
Some critters really like, and need, the hot weather. For anyone who owns a cat (I know, cats own you!), they always nap in the ray of sunshine that streams through a window. Many humans enjoy that, too. There is something about the brightness and warmth that relaxes the soul, and makes one feel that life is worth living.
Apart from the emotional benefits of enjoying the warmth of the sun, there are basic physical needs for all animals that require heat to survive. Breathing, digesting food, even growing – these bodily functions are necessary for life, and they all need heat to work.
All endothermic (warm-blooded) animals are able to maintain an optimum body temperature by burning the food they eat, and through muscle movement like exercise and shivering. For ectothermic (cold-blooded) animals, they can’t do that, so their body temperature is no different than the outdoor temperature. If the air is cold, they will be cold, so they seek out external ways to warm up so their bodies can function optimally.
Take turtles, for instance. They can often be seen sunning themselves on logs or rocks near water. They are ectothermic, and this is the way they generate the heat needed to live, since they can’t generate enough of their own. In the winter, these animals hibernate, digging themselves deep in the mud at the bottom of ponds where it isn’t as cold. But their circulation slows down considerably as it is still quite cool in that environment.
Frogs are the same as turtles. Summer is spent sunning themselves, while the winter is a different story. Some species of frogs actually freeze in the winter, their breathing and heart rate stopping since there is no body heat for organs to function. But nature has its amazing ways, and these critters do thaw out in the spring!
Another ectothermic species is the snake. Rocks are where they like to hang out to catch their heat. Come winter, hundreds, even thousands, will slither underground, curling up together to maintain their collective body heat. They don’t eat, and their metabolism slows. The most hardy of snakes will surface on warmer days when the sun is shining.
In Ontario, we have just one lizard species, called a skink. These small, colourful lizards are now endangered, mostly due to habitat loss. They also need the heat of the sun to survive, and are only active during warm, sunny days. They are good climbers, and will find low hanging branches where they can soak up the sun, away from predators.
Birds may be endothermic, but butterflies are not. When these dainty little creatures get cold, they are unable to fly. When this happens, they need the heat of the sun to warm up their muscles before they can flutter away. That’s why you won’t see butterflies at night or in the winter.
Now that it is September, many of our ectothermic friends are becoming sluggish, not able to get enough heat that they need. When these animals are brought to Procyon in the cooler weather, we need to keep them warm, under heat lamps, until spring when they are able to benefit from the heat of the sun. How about sponsoring one of our reptiles or amphibians?