Just thinking about sticking a toe in the water this time of year is enough to get the chills. Yeah, we’d do that polar plunge to raise money for a good cause or maybe even on a dare, but not without making sure there were plenty of towels and warm beverages waiting close to shore. There are, however, some creatures always up for a swim. Meet four animals well equipped to excel at any polar plunge.
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Naturally dressed to the nines, Emperor Penguins have no problem staying warm in the cold. Penguins lean back, not in. Leaning back allows them to pick their toes off the ice reducing heat loss. They also have the cool ability to lower the temperature of their outer feathers below the temperature of the air, allowing the birds to warm up on cloudless days through convection. Finally, for penguins, staying warm is all about teamwork, they huddle together for heat even traveling that way.
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Wouldn’t it be cool if you could change your body temperature on a whim? That’s exactly what leatherback turtles can do; by changing their body temperature in cold water they help themselves stay warm. Those layers of fat under their skin and a circulatory system also keeps them warm but it’s their diet that prepares them for any polar plunge they embark on. Leatherback turtles can eat their weight in jellyfish in one day and they like the famously poisonous kinds such as Portuguese Man-of-War, the lion’s mane and more. The act of eating those jellyfish gives the turtle even more heat than their layers of fat, circulatory system and changing body temperature.
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For polar bears staying warm is all in the genes. Genetic adaptations in how polar bears produce nitric oxide to convert food to heat make polar bears better suited for cold water and weather than their black and brown bear counterparts. Those genes combined with a layer of blubber and two coats of fur including a hollow outer fur that repels water keeps the polar bears toasty in the cold.
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With up to a million hairs per inch it must be hard for sea otters to have a good hair day.No wonder they are always cleaning themselves. One of the benefits of those hairs is they provide a dense coat that traps a layer of air against their skin providing warmth and making them almost waterproof. In addition to their coat sea otters stay warm by eating. They eat and eat and eat and their high metabolism gives their body even more
Photo credit: Flickr Creative Commons/cmichel67