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Staying Cool During the Heat of Summer

August 03, 2013 Posted by: LO - Park Ranger (Yosemite Valley)
This summer has brought some hot days. To cope with the heat, animals may try to avoid it. By being crepuscular (active at dawn and dusk) or spending time in the river or shade, animals can stay cool as the temperature soars. But, on those searing days, you may notice what seems to be unusual animal behavior.   

"What is that squirrel doing?? He looks silly!" says a junior ranger. I look over to see what this young observer sees - a California ground squirrel (Spermophilus beecheyi) laying down so that his belly is flat to the ground and his legs are splayed out to the sides. The sight does seem comical as the squirrel looks like he has beached himself upon a rock in the shade. So what was this squirrel doing? It was trying to cool off, something many visitors are also trying to do during the hot days of the summer. The difference of temperature between the hot squirrel and the cool ground can help this squirrel to move its body heat toward the cooler ground.

As you enjoy relaxing in the shade on a scorching day, you may also see birds with their mouths open. To cool down, birds try to get rid of heat through evaporative cooling. Some birds pant while other bird species are even equipped for gular fluttering, which means they can vibrate the muscles in their throat. And, hanging around with your mouth open seems to be a better option than the behavior of the turkey vulture. The turkey vulture (Cathartes aura) has been found to excrete on its legs to wet its legs and cool down.

If you find yourself in Yosemite on a blazing hot day, discover what behaviors you reveal to keep yourself cool. As you do, be aware of deceivingly slick rocks and the power of the river if you choose to swim, carry plenty of water to replenish your lost fluids, and perhaps take time to observe how an animal tries to keep cool too.

Cooling off during the heat of summer (at Carlon Falls)
Cooling off during the heat of summer (at Carlon Falls)

Nature Scene, Yosemite Valley, LO




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Did You Know?

American Indians use traditional ignition methods on a prescribed fire project

The indigenous people of Yosemite Valley have used fire as a tool for thousands of years. Fire was used to encourage the growth of plants used for basket making and to promote the growth of the black oak--a sun loving species--and a staple food source for American Indians from this region.