Young Cape Fur Seals Handle Heat with Built-in Air Conditioning

Dry Natal Cape Fur SealOne of the easiest ways to find relief from scorching summer heat is a quick dip in the water. Whether tiger, hippo, or seal, many animals also turn to the water to find relief. However, unlike their adult counterparts, newborn Cape fur seals can’t swim, and intense sun exposure poses a threat of overheating. Luckily, according to a recent PLOS ONE study, these seal pups may have built-in air conditioners, in the form of a furry natal coat, to keep them cool until they learn to stay afloat.

Cape fur seals live in the sunny climes of southern Africa, ranging from the north coast of Namibia, south to the Cape of Good Hope and northeast to Alogoa Bay. Temperatures in these regions can soar above 80° F, and adult seals rely on frequent swims to escape the Wet Cape Seal Pup Fursun. An adult spends half its life in the water, but pups are unable to swim until they’re at least 6 weeks old. At this age, coarse water repellent (read: swim-friendly) coats finally grow in to replace their “baby” fur.

Besides making fur seals extra cute and cuddly looking, fur coats may insulate seals from the harsh sun exposure that they are unable to escape from on land. To gain a better understanding of these unique insulating properties, researchers measured temperature daily in several spots on the baby seals, under varying environmental conditions: on the fur surface, within the fur, on the skin and in the rectum. They found that on the warmest days, at an ambient air temperature around 80° F, the pups’ fur measured a whopping 175° F on the surface; Temperature of Natal Cape Fur Sealthankfully, this temperature dropped as they measured fur closer to the skin. Within fur, the temperature was a slightly cooler 146° F, and the skin temperature was a more-normal 99.86° F. Internal body temperature remained relatively constant at 98.4° F, indicating that the temperature drastically changed within the fur layer to keep bodies cool. If  the seal pups got wet, however, the fur temperature reached 100° F and skin 84° F, showing a reduced ability of fur to insulate when wet. These results support the idea that the furry coat may be an adaptation that provides insulation against overheating during their first six weeks on land.

If you’re interested in reading more about how other animals keep cool, check out this post about African and Asian elephants.

Erdsack N, Dehnhardt G, Hanke W (2013) Coping with Heat: Function of The Natal Coat of Cape Fur Seal (Arctocephalus Pusillus Pusillus) Pups in Maintaining Core Body Temperature. PLoS ONE 8(8): e72081. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0072081

Images: 10.1371/journal.pone.0072081

Attention All Procrastinators: There’s Research to Help!


It’s the twelfth of April and the clock is ticking on your tax return. For those of you who haven’t filed, we’ve assembled a few PLOS ONE papers to help get you back on track.

If you’ve pulled up your W-2s, but are tempted to stray why not read this study?  Aptly titled “Lead Me Not into Temptation: Using Cognitive Reappraisal to Reduce Goal Inconsistent Behavior”, this PLOS ONE paper suggests that simply thinking about a task in a different way can improve performance. The researchers instructed study participants to complete a set of simple tasks on the computer. Unbeknownst to the participants, a set of tempting, or distracting, obstacles were embedded in the task. The control group followed the same instructions for the first and second set of tasks. Meanwhile, the test group was told that the second task “aim[ed] to assess your willpower”.

Researchers found that reinterpreting the given task in a different way affected the participants’ performance. Reappraisal helped participants increase the importance of the goal (e.g., proving they had willpower) and decrease the importance of the temptation. Consequently, members of the test group spent less time distracted and derived less pleasure from the temptation than their counterparts in the control group.

In another PLOS ONE study, researchers examined the relationship between physical fitness, as measured by heart rate variability and cognitive performance. Individuals who were recruited underwent physical testing and were divided into high-fit and low-fit groups.  The researchers asked both groups to perform three cognitive tests that measured response time and various types of attention. They found that participants in the high-fit group performed distinctly better than their low-fit counterparts in the first cognitive task, which measured sustained attention.

For those of you who have tried going to the gym and reappraising the taxing task at hand, we’ve found another study that may help you beat procrastination. All you need to do is focus on this:

According to research published last year, viewing kawaii (a Japanese word for cute) images may affect behavior and increase focus. Participants in this study were asked to look at images of baby animals, adult animals, or neutral objects (e.g., food). Researchers then gave participants tasks to complete, such as use tweezers to remove small objects from holes or search for a specific number in a number grid, and assessed their performance. Their results indicate that individuals who looked at cute images prior to the task tended to perform better in tasks that require carefulness.

Procrastinators everywhere, there’s hope – and time – yet! If this science hasn’t convinced you to get back to the task at hand, read more PLOS ONE research about motivation, goals, and reward here.


Leroy V, Grégoire J, Magen E, Gross JJ, Mikolajczak M (2012) Lead Me Not into Temptation: Using Cognitive Reappraisal to Reduce Goal Inconsistent Behavior. PLoS ONE 7(7): e39493. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0039493

Luque-Casado A, Zabala M, Morales E, Mateo-March M, Sanabria D (2013) Cognitive Performance and Heart Rate Variability: The Influence of Fitness Level. PLoS ONE 8(2): e56935. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0056935

Nittono H, Fukushima M, Yano A, Moriya H (2012) The Power of Kawaii: Viewing Cute Images Promotes a Careful Behavior and Narrows Attentional Focus. PLoS ONE 7(9): e46362. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0046362


Procrastination – A1, by LadyDayDream.

Make Room for Me!, by Kimberly Tamkun / USFWS Mountain Prairie.