The Tricks Animals Used to Survive Australia’s Bushfire
Mon, April 19, 2021

The Tricks Animals Used to Survive Australia’s Bushfire

Bushfires continue to rage in Australia since the fire season that started in late July. The country goes through this season as hot and dry conditions and wind make it easy for the flames to spread / Photo by: Helitak430 via Wikimedia Commons

 

Bushfires continue to rage in Australia since the fire season that started in late July. The country goes through this season as hot and dry conditions and wind make it easy for the flames to spread. The devastation and scale of the wildfire are examples of how climate change can intensify natural disasters, climate scientists have warned the public. Thousands of people also had to evacuate their area and military and firefighters were sent to put out the flames. But how about the native wildlife? How were they able to survive when fires damaged their habitat?

Dale Nimmo, an associate professor at Charles Sturt University, shared details on the “astounding” tricks that animals used to survive the bushfire.

#1. By sensing smoke

Experiments in Australia showed that fat-tailed dunnarts (Sminthopsis crassicaudata) and Gould's long-eared bats sensed smoke that allowed then to escape from the fire. A 2018 finding from the Audubon Zoo in the US supports the said experiments. At that time, a staff member accidentally burned pasty in the zoo and noticed something strange. The 10 sleepy lizards (Tiliqua rugosa) enclosed nearby started pacing while flicking their tongue. Yet, in the rooms not affected by smoke, the sleepy lizards remained calm and burrowed. It was theorized that the lizards sensed the smoke through their sense of smell or olfaction, enhanced by flicking their tongue.

Experiments in Australia showed that fat-tailed dunnarts (Sminthopsis crassicaudata) and Gould's long-eared bats sensed smoke that allowed then to escape from the fire / Photo by: Bernard DUPONT via Wikimedia Commons

 

#2. By recognizing the unique sounds of fire

In a study that appeared in the Royal Society Publishing, researchers wrote that fire plays a significant role in the sensory ecology of many animals. Frogs, for instance, use acoustic cues to detect that a fire is approaching. The unique sounds of giving a head start for slow-moving animals to flee before the fire will reach them. Researchers experimented on reed frogs using playbacks of the sound of fire. As soon as they hear the “crackling” sound, they flee to a direction where they can find protective cover and that they would consider safe. The team refers to such an amphibian technique as a “novel response” to a fire that has not yet occurred.

In the same way, far eastern red bats are also awakened from torpor or a state of decreased physiological activity by reducing their metabolic rate and body temperature by hearing fire sounds. This was explained by researcher Anna Alexandra Scesny from Missouri State University.

#3. By detecting the infrared radiations from fire

Some species can detect fire in different ways. For example, fire chaser beetles can detect infrared radiation from fires and fire chemicals even at low concentrations. This is because they are attracted to forest fires. They depend on it for reproduction by using the freshly burnt wood to lay their eggs. Another study has suggested that some beetle species can even detect fire 130km away.

#4. By seeking refuge under rocks or in burrows

While other animals prefer to flee away from fire, some choose to stay put. Smaller animals are more willing to seek refuge under rocks or in burrows to survive a fire. These burrows are usually created by wombats, marsupial animals that burrow underground. These animals can quickly dig complicated tunnels using their sharp claws and strong legs and push the soil away using their hind feet. Depending on the depth, burrows help buffer the heat of forest fires. After the fire, the animals can repopulate the burnt landscape while it is recovering. An example of this would be the bush rat and the antechinus found in the footprint of Black Saturday bushfire in Victoria. Research has considered this as their “post-fire population recovery.”

Some species can detect fire in different ways. For example, fire chaser beetles can detect infrared radiation from fires and fire chemicals even at low concentrations / Photo by: Capri23auto via Pixabay

 

#5. By hiding in the deep beds of ash

Some animals recognize that the risk of moving through a burning landscape is high, so they have learned to minimize their movement. Native swamp rats were found hiding in the deep beds of ash after fires. This was evidenced in the magazine Australian Natural History.

Post-fire challenges

But avoiding the fire is only half the battle, said Nimmo. The days and weeks after the fire will bring another challenge for the animals as food resources will also be scarce. Most plants cannot withstand the effects of fire, making smaller animals more visible to predators that are hungry after surviving the fire. Lizards, for example, are at risk of predators.

Australian wildlife: statistics
About 480 million animals have lost their lives because of the Australian bush fires, according to Australian biodiversity expert Prof. Chris Dickman from the University of Sydney. He based the numbers on the report he co-wrote with the World Wide Fund for Nature during the land-clearing in New South Wales. An average of 129.5 reptiles, 20.7 birds, and 17.5 mammals were killed per hectare and then it was multiplied by the amount of land affected by fires. The smaller ones and the less mobile animal species that depend on the forest to live are in the “firing line,” the professor told BBC. The report also showed that about 25,000 koalas died in the bushfires.

The Australian Wildlife Conservatory shares that among the wildlife found in Australia, 45% of them are bird species, 94% are frogs, 93% are reptiles, and 87% are mammal species.

Australia plays an important role in biodiversity. It is a megadiverse nation and is home to many species. Although their animals have an impressive record of co-existing with heat and fire, it remains an undeniable threat to their lives.