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11 Nissan 5765 - April 20, 2005 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Observations: Wonders of Creation — Sophisticated Cold Protection in the Negev
by Yated Ne'eman Staff

How do animals survive the extreme conditions in the desert? New studies reveal glimpses of the wonders of Creation: "smart" means of protection that allow animals and plants to live and function under conditions of dry heat or freezing temperatures. In the science journal, Teva Hadevarim, researcher Yigal Granot of the Sdeh Boker Desert Research Station notes that every winter, meteorological stations in the Negev record temperatures dipping as low as 20 degrees Fahrenheit at sea level. Clear winter nights in the desert are colder than cloudy nights because, in the absence of a cloud blanket to retain the heat, sunlight absorbed during the day is released into space very quickly.

At such low temperatures animals try to hide in tunnels and burrows underground, where temperatures change at a slower rate. Other animals hide under rocks, but this does not provide adequate insulation. In the blood of the yellow scorpion researchers recently discovered an antifreeze agent that lowers the freezing point to 20 degrees Fahrenheit. Other animals are covered with fur or feathers and many small birds can be observed fluffing their feathers on cold winter days to trap air, which is a highly efficient insulator.

The color black, common among goats, beetles, snakes and other animals, helps them cope with cold conditions.

Based on the assumption that animals would not have coloration that makes them clearly visible to their predators unless it offered a distinct advantage of greater importance to their survival, researchers began to turn their attention to black animals, which stand out prominently against the yellow desert background. Indeed, studies of the Bedouin goat found that although they have a system to regulate body heat, when they set out in search of food in the early morning hours the goats' black hair is used to absorb heat from the sun's rays, gaining them extra time for grazing. Beetles, which are cold-blooded, also absorb heat from the sun during the cold morning hours.

Other animals, such as the desert moss crab, spend the fall and winter in a state of pseudo-hibernation inside a tunnel. During the few hours they leave the tunnel their dark coloration allows them to absorb 60 percent of the sun's rays.

This sophisticated innovation of maximizing the sun's rays can also be found among certain plants, particularly sprouts of annuals sensitive to the cold. Most desert plants are equipped with a thick, natural covering to provide insulation, but young sprouts are liable to freeze. Scientists say that during the first two days of life the majority of plants that sprout after the first rain have red coloration that later changes to green. The red comes from anthocyanin, a pigment known for its ability to absorb heat, and thus the sprouts are able to keep warm until their photosynthesis apparatus (which generates energy) matures.


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