Spiffing UpBy Ellen Lambeth
Good grooming helps keep you neat, clean, and healthy. The same is true for animals. But their grooming habits might be a little different from yours.
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After a hard day of work or play, you most likely head for the tub or shower, right? Water also works for animals, such as this rockhopper penguin. After a long trek from the ocean to its nesting spot, its feathers got coated with dirt and penguin poop. Standing under this natural waterfall does the trick to wash it all away!
This polar bear doesn’t need a towel. A good shake will get off most of that icy water. If you’ve ever stood near a dog after a bath or a swim, you know how well this method of drying off works.
Mud is a wonderful substance to wallow in. If there isn’t a mud hole big enough, a Sumatran rhinoceros can stomp and dig at a puddle to make it just right. Then it might lie around in it for hours. A nice mudpack soothes the skin, gets rid of insect pests, and keeps a hot animal cool.
Wait—what? This Burchell’s zebra seems to be getting dirty, not clean! Yes, but it’s still taking good care of its body. A roll in the dust works well to remove hairs that shed or to dry and fluff a wet coat. It scratches itchy skin, too. A covering of dust may also work as sunscreen or insect repellent.
For a bird, neat-and-tidy feathers are a matter of life and death. They’re important for flight and for keeping the bird warm and dry. This orange-winged parrot is using its beak as a comb to preen its feathers. Preening removes dirt and pests. It also closes up any gaps in each feather. Then the bird spreads on oil from a special gland. The oil is like a conditioner and waterproofer.
A sea otter uses its paws and claws as brushes to rub its thick coat. It’s extremely important to keep the coat perfectly groomed. The rubbing cleans the hairs and spreads waterproofing oil from the otter’s skin on them. It also puffs up the coat, which keeps a warm layer of air between the skin and cold ocean water.
Have you ever been licked by a cat? If so, you know how rough its tongue feels. It’s like a built-in scrubber to clean and smooth a furry coat. This Sumatran tiger is just an extra-big kitty with an extra-big tongue, washing the remains of a meal off its paws.
When you blink, your eyelids help spread moisture across your eyes and wipe away dust. This Tokay gecko has neither eyelids nor tears. But a quick lick with the tongue works just as well!
Even lizards, such as this marine iguana, get bugged by blood-sucking pests. But they can’t do much about it. Good thing this small ground-finch enjoys an occasional insect or tick snack. It’s a good deal: The iguana gets “debugged,” while the bird gets fed.
There’s nothing like a steamy soak while friends fuss over you! Natural hot springs like this one exist in the chilly mountain areas of Japan. And these Japanese macaques enjoy relaxing in them. Even better, friends and family members take turns grooming one another—poking through the hair to pick out pests and bits of dirt. It probably feels pretty good, too!
No, this toothy sand diver isn’t about to chomp down on a shrimp meal. Those are cleaner shrimp, and they have a job to do. The fish opens wide and holds still. Meanwhile, the shrimp move safely around the fish’s jaws, picking out bits of leftover food or mouth “bugs.” The fish gets a flossing, and the shrimp get a meal.
There are places in the sea known as “cleaning stations.” Some animals hang out there while other animals pick off pests and bits of old skin to eat. In this cleaning station, a green sea turtle gets spiffed up by several different kinds of cleaner fishes, including some yellow tangs.
Next time you get spruced up, which of these many methods might you choose?
“Spiffing Up” originally appeared in the September 2016 issue of Ranger Rick magazine.
(Click on each image above for a closer view of the story.)