Did you know… the story of the 'hot' snake, the fish, and the toad?
Tucked away in different corners of the planet, there are animals with unique adaptations that allow them to thrive in some rather surprising environments. Despite the extreme conditions and challenges, certain species are even able to make hot waters their permanent home.
Take for example the Tibetan Hot-Spring snake. This snake is exactly what it sounds like: a snake that lives in the hot springs of Tibet, high in the mountains, where the weather is very cold. Like other reptiles, snakes are ectothermic, or cold blooded, meaning they do not regulate their own body temperature and rely on the external environment to do so. Most reptiles will sunbathe or hide underground to stay warm, but the Tibetan Hot-Spring snake achieves the same outcome in a rather unusual way. By living in the warm waters of the natural hot springs occurring in the area, these amazing reptiles can stay heated year-round.
The Hot-Spring snake has a special adaptation found in their genome; a gene called EPAS1. This gene makes them much more sensitive to heat sources as compared to their close relatives, allowing them to seek out the hot water much more easily. They have been observed leaving hot springs to travel to rivers and colder lakes to feed on the fish and other small creatures living there, and then navigating back to the hot springs afterwards using their heat-seeking senses.
These snakes aren’t the only animals that are able to survive and thrive in hot waters - a small species of fish in Mexico can live in super-hot water up to 114 degrees Fahrenheit. The Julimes pupfish lives full-time in the area’s hot springs, earning it the title of “the world’s hottest fish.” These pupfish could be considered “extremophiles”, animals who are able to tolerate very harsh conditions. Imagine living your whole life hotter than the hottest hot tub!
Finally, there is the Dixie Valley toad. This toad has specifically adapted to survive in the warm waters around the Dixie Valley in a remote area near Reno, Nevada. When it was discovered and described in 2017, it became the only new species of toad discovered in the US in nearly 50 years.
Most toads spend the colder months underground in burrows so that they don’t freeze along with the water around them. The Dixie Valley toad doesn’t burrow, instead it remains in the warm springs all winter long. The toads prefer the warm water over any other options for heat that may be available to them. It must work for them, since they have been thriving in the springs for thousands of years.
These animals are great examples of how even though conditions may be harsh and seemingly inhospitable, it’s good to remember the timeless words of Dr. Ian Malcolm from Jurassic Park: “Life finds a way.”