Beating The Heat

Ord's Kangaroo Rat

Wildlife on Toppenish National Wildlife Refuge have a variety of ways to beat the summer heat of eastern Washington.


Some organisms have special physical adaptations, like the black-tailed jackrabbit. Its long, very thin ears are laced with arteries and veins to dissipate heat. Most birds have bare legs, and they can increase blood flow to their legs to help dissipate heat. Birds also have high body temperatures to begin with, so they are better able to withstand high temperatures.

Some animals have special behavioral and physiological adaptations. The Washington ground squirrel sleeps—“estivates”—the summer away underground, its metabolism slowing to conserve energy.

Many mammals have a built-in adaptation that helps them deal with summer heat—they shed thicker winter coats for cooler summer coats, like the coyote.

Some creatures are true desert animals that have evolved perfect desert lifestyles, like the kangaroo rat that stays underground during the day—even plugging its burrow entrances to keep out the heat!—emerges at dusk to forage, and has such incredibly efficient kidneys that it can get all the water it needs just from the seeds it eats.

Animals that don’t have special adaptations change their lifestyles, like mule deer that spend days in the shade, only becoming active in the cool of dusk and dawn. Vultures will urinate on their legs to be cooled by evaporation. Prairie falcons will roost on cool north-facing rock ledges. And while we haven’t seen it on Toppenish, on the nearby Hanford Reach National Monument, porcupines come to the water’s edge to stick their “tail ends” into the water to beat the heat.

These are just a few of the ways animals cope with the heat of eastern Washington. Somehow, everything finds a way to survive.