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Koalas Use the Power of Hugs to Survive Extreme Heat

Hey, science? Call them "cool"alas. You're welcome.

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A study published today is giving away all of koalas’ secrets for staying cool in warmer climes: according to new findings in Biology Letters, the little cutie pies hug trees to beat the heat. Phew, good thing their mode of self-preservation isn’t endangered by human activity! I was worried for a second!

A team of American and Australian biologists observed 37 koalas in summer and winter and tracked the amount of time the animals spent in quintessential koala pose — chillin’ on a tree. The researchers recorded the trees’ heights, their type, and even the temperature in the lower branches where koalas typically hang, and determined that the marsupials “appeared to be hugging the trunks or large lower branches” of trees 65% more often during extreme heat than less intense days — possibly because the lower branches of trees can create a microclimate up to five degrees cooler than “ambient air temperature.”

In an email to Discover, study co-author Natalie Briscoe explained:

Our modeling shows that hugging a cool tree trunk during a typical hot day in southeastern Australia can halve the amount of heat koalas need to lose via evaporative cooling […]this behaviour is likely to help them cope with hotter or longer extreme heat events.

Predictably, the tree with the greatest cooling properties, Acacia mernsii, is often not found in koala habitats. Seeking shelter from the heat can increase survival rates for koalas — provided they’re not killed looking for refuge outside their habitat first.

Damn. Now I need a hug.

(via Discover, image via Alois Staudacher)

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