Snot bubbles and belly flops keep echidnas cool, research finds

Echidnas blow snot bubbles and do belly flops to keep themselves cool in the Australian heat, new research has found.

thermal image of an echida

The native animals are believed to be less tolerant to hot weather than other Australian species becuase their spines act like a blanket, and the animals cannot pant, sweat or lick themselves to cool down.

Thanks to infrared cameras, researchers have now discovered the unique methods they use to release heat.

Echidnas have long been known to blow bubbles of mucus out their noses, but it was believed this was primarily to clear dirt from their snouts. Thermal imaging captured by researchers from Curtin University in Western Australia indicates the behavior also cools the animal.

The mucus bubbles burst and wet the tip of the echidna’s snout, allowing evaporation to cool blood circulating just under the skin.

It is an incredibly effective cooling mechanism, with the nose being up to 10 degrees cooler than the rest of the body.

They can also cool down by pressing their bellies and legs, which lack insulating spines, against cool surfaces.

As one of the rarest species in the world, one of only two types of monotreme, understanding how echidnas tolerate heat is essential for their conservation on a warming planet.

And this research indicates they have a better shot at survival than previously thought. People have long assumed monotremes like echidnas are not very sophisticated or tolerant physiologically. But in the study, the animals were found active at ambient temperatures of 37.5 degrees, demonstrating they are more tolerant than previously thought.

Read more here at the BBC.