As humans, we can be pretty pleased with ourselves. As a species, we’ve pushed ourselves to our limits in almost every way, crashing through our natural boundaries and squeezing every last drop of functionality from our relatively ill-adapted bodies to survive freezing winters, overcome food and water shortages and eliminate sickness.
But we’ve got nothing – nothing – on some animals, especially when it comes to conserving water. We might have the brains to develop impressive technology to do the work for us, but what we haven’t got is the smart bodily adaptation.
None of these wonderful creatures requires intervention, because they’ve already got it sorted when it comes to quenching their thirst.
The fogstand beetle, native to the Namib Desert in Africa, has developed a very special way of getting the water it requires. There may be a lack of water in the Desert, but it is close to the sea, thus meaning it receives a wave of fog every morning. Much like in this image of the ladybird above, the fogstand beetle waits for condensation droplets to gather on its body. Then it can drink them.
The thorny devil, whose habitat is the deserts of the Australian outback, not only looks awesome but has also developed an incredibly absorbent skin which works like blotting paper to extract as much water as possible when it comes across it- because as you can imagine, it’s pretty hard to come by out there. The thorny devil’s skin will even change colour if it soaks up liquid from dirty sources.
Of course, it’s impossible to forget the camel in a discussion like this. The hump (single=dromedary, double=bactrian) stores fat, and it acts as both a water and food source when times are tough.
The sandgoose may look fairly ordinary, but its modest appearance belies a useful adaptation: it has specialised feathers on its belly which are able to act as a kind of sponge. Soaking up water, the sandgoose can then transport small quantities back to its young as they wait in the nest. It’s mainly found in the deserts of North Africa and Asia.
Finally the dorcas gazelle, which resides in North Africa, has an astonishing mechanism for surviving without water. While it will drink if it can, this little antelope actually extracts most of the liquid it needs from its food – and when water is scarce, it concentrates its urine into a “pellet”, conserving liquid.
So, that’s some seriously impressive stuff. It has to be said, of course, that many animals do contract parasites or even die from drinking dirty water – just like humans did, and do, prior to the implementation of cleaning systems.
But human beings need a lot of water, which means we are much less well-equipped than these critters for survival without it. This is precisely why it is essential to keep developing ways of extracting clean water, to ensure a regular, safe supply for all.