Elephants use ‘hot spots’ to stay cool
Richard Gray, London Telegraph
02 May 2010
Elephants can fine tune their body temperature using “hot spots” scattered around their bodies, according to research which questions the widely held belief that the animals use their giant ears to stay cool.
With their thick hides and lack of sweat glands, it has long been thought that elephants rely upon their distinctive large ears and bathing in rivers to stay cool in hot climates.
New research, however, has revealed that the world’s largest land animals have a secret trick to control their own body temperatures.
Using thermal cameras, biologists have discovered that the creatures’ bodies are covered in “hot spots” that can help them lose heat.
By directing their blood supply near to the surface of small patches of skin scattered around their bodies, elephants can lose heat rapidly, allowing them to fine-tune their internal temperature.
Scientists have long been puzzled by temperature regulation in elephants. Typically, animals with large bodies tend to retain more heat because, relative to their bulk, they have a small surface area for heat to escape from.
Elephants, with their heavyweight frames, would appear to be at a disadvantage in the fierce heat of their African and Asian habitats, especially because they lack sweat glands – used for cooling by other mammals – and have tough hides to protect them from spiny bushes and trees.
It was assumed by biologists that the creatures, which weigh up to 13 tons (12 tonnes) when fully-grown, had evolved large ears to help them stay cool. The skin in the ears is thinner, so blood pumped into them cools down more readily.
But findings by researchers at two universities in Vienna have revealed that elephants also able to cool down by increasing the blood flow to skin patches in other parts of their bodies.
Nicole Weissenböck, an ecologist at the city’s University of Veterinary Medicine, who led the research, said: “Elephants are the largest terrestrial mammals on earth today.
“They are called pachyderms