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Do as animals do: adapt to temperature changes

June 14, 2008
I know it’s not officially summer yet. But you could have fooled me last weekend. The sun was hot, there were a million things going on, from graduation parties to rib fests to picnics. The beaches were packed, the boats were out, and you could almost smell the sunscreen in the air. I, for one, was not complaining about the heat.

The sun is a wonderful thing. Besides being the basic source of life on the planet (no small feat) it has the power to make the world absolutely buzz with life. Dragonflies, for example, are “solar powered,” as we like to say. On those hot, balmy days when you think it’s too hot for anything, the dragonflies are flying by the hundreds. Insects, by nature, like the hotter weather. I can’t count how many butterflies I saw last weekend. Top it off with the grasshopper nymphs, the beetles, the flies (even the biting ones), and the bees and I must have seen a few thousand living things. And that was only during one hike.

Through a field of lupine, tree swallows spun and dove to catch the bugs and a Bobolink perched on last year’s mullein stalk. Wood Thrush music carried on the wind from the woods and the songs of Common Yellowthroats, Redstarts, Red-winged Blackbirds and Goldfinches chimed in as accompaniments. Even in the middle of an 87-degree day, the birds had something to sing about. Summer!

I love summer. I love wearing flip flops and wading through cold streams. I love spontaneous swimming and lying out to dry in the sun. I think I am “solar-powered” sometimes, too. Sure, it’s hot. But it wasn’t that long ago that it was cold. Really cold. I’m more than happy to lather on the sunscreen and go mulch my garden, go hiking looking for frogs and snakes, or take kids on a nature walk.

It’s easy to complain that it’s too hot. It’s easy to complain that it’s too cold, or too rainy or too dry. Simply put, it’s easy to complain. One of the most admirable characteristics of all life, except humans, is that they deal with the circumstances without complaint. If it’s too hot, the animals find a cool spot and hunker down. If it’s too cold, they seek a warm spot or slow their bodies down to deal with it. Every weather type suits something.

As great a species as we are, we still can’t change the weather. When it’s hot, it’s hot. I encourage you to find some creative ways that don’t suck energy to deal with it. Go swimming, go for hike in a big forest (the trees keep it cooler), wade in a stream, tie a wet bandana around your neck. Here at Audubon, we carry spray bottles of water in our packs to mist the kids when it’s really hot.

Sometimes it’s not an option to work with the weather, or hide for the hottest parts of the day. But there are things we can do to beat the heat that are more sustainable than cranking the AC. Wear fewer or lighter or looser clothes. Make friends with a shade tree. Keep your feet and ankles wet and the rest of you will be cooler. Same with your head and neck. Wear a wet baseball hat. Drink a lot of water. Your sweat is your body’s way of cooling you down; don’t let it run out of water.

Contrary to some logic, close your windows and curtains on hot days. The insulation in your house keeps out the hot air. Open the windows at night to let the cooler air filter in and refresh the atmosphere. Spend time in the basement or lower levels of the house. Heat rises, cooler air sinks. Use fans more than the air conditioner. If you do use an air conditioner, try to only cool one room and try not to set it below 70 degrees.

Plants and animals all have built-in mechanisms for dealing with heat and cold. Sure, not all of them survive, but a lot of them do. We can take some simple hints from them as summer approaches. Seek shelter from the heat — inside, in the water, in the shade. Use water to your advantage — go swimming, wading, or wear wet clothes. Drink a lot of it, too. A breeze is good, so use fans if there isn’t a natural breeze to cool you down. You might wilt in the heat, but you’ll revive.

Most of all, don’t complain about the heat. It’s a psychological battle and talking about it just makes it worse.

Enjoy summer. Enjoy nature. Stay cool. And wear sunscreen.

Audubon is located at 1600 Riverside Road off Route 62 between Warren and Jamestown. The trails are open dawn to dusk. The building is open from 10 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. daily, except Sundays, when we open at 1. Visit or or call 569-2345 for more information. Day camps still have some open slots for kids of all ages. Call soon.

Sarah Hatfield is a naturalist at Audubon and loves the sun.

Article Photos

Photo by Sarah Hatfield
Dragonflies, like this Ebony Jewelwing, thrive in hot, sunny weather.



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