Tuesday, 17 May 2016

When confronted with a raging wildfire, echidnas go to sleep

Bushfires are an ever-present threat in Australia, but short-beaked echidnas have found a surprising way to survive them

By Richard Gray
14 May 2016

In the tinder-dry bush of Australia, wildfire can tear through vegetation at terrifying speeds, incinerating almost everything in its path and leaving little more than blackened desert in its wake.

Most animals have a natural, ingrained fear of fire that compels them to flee the flames. But one strange creature has a rather surprising tactic for dealing with blazes. It does nothing.

Short-beaked echidnas – odd little hedgehog-like critters that lay eggs instead of live young – can enter an inactive state known as torpor, which is used by many animals to help them conserve energy. When in torpor, echidnas reduce their metabolic rate and lower their body temperature.

This, according to research published in April 2016, gives them an uncanny knack for surviving bushfires. It might also have helped their distant ancestors survive a mass extinction.

In 2013 a catastrophic fire swept across Warrumbungle National Park in eastern Australia. Julia Nowack, then based at the University of New England in New South Wales, Australia, studied the aftermath.

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