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Word of the Week: Apricate

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Welcome to Word of the Week! This week we wanted to bring some sunlight back into your light through a fun little word: Apricate! Stay tuned for a new word each Wednesday to amp up your nature vocabulary!

What Does Apricate Mean? 

Apricate [AP-ri-kayt] (verb): To bask in the sun. This fun word comes from the latin word apricus, meaning exposed to the sun.

How is Apricate Related to Animals?

Every winter season, we see many cold days, a lot of snow, and lots of ice. However, every second Sunday in March is one of the earliest signs of spring.  This is the day when daylight savings begins. So we spring our clocks forward by an hour.

This time change gives us one more hour of sunlight in the evening and tells us that  spring is about to approach us. After having limited time outside in the winter due to short, light hours and sometimes even the cold, it’s only natural for us to want to take advantage of the weather as the days get longer and the sun is out more. One thing we might do to appreciate the warmth and light is to bask in the sun.

But are humans the only ones that do this? No, animals do it too! During this exciting time, the start of the warm weather will bring animals big and small out of their winter hideouts and into the sun for some much needed aprication.

Some of these animals include Garter Snakes, Painted Turtles, and Mourning Cloak Butterflies. Even the animals that didn’t spend their winter hibernating, like Red-winged Blackbirds and Blue Jays, will enjoy the extra hours of daylight and will spend some of their time apricating.

Why do animals bask in the sun? Let’s explore this further!

Why Do Animals Bask in the Sun?

From frogs to Monarch Butterflies to birds, to lizards, all these animals take their time to meet some of their biological needs by bathing in the sun. Here are some of the reasons why they do it.

Maintaining Temperature 

Many creatures soak in the sun to help control their body temperature. This process is known as thermoregulation. Animals that are considered cold-blooded endotherms such as reptiles, amphibians, some insect species, and some fish like the mola, also known as the sunfish, and the carp will do this.

Ectotherm animals have a hard time controlling their body temperature through their metabolism because their internal temperature will change based on the weather around them. If the weather outside is cold, their internal body temperature will also be cold, plus, muscle movement and the immune system will slow down. To help warm and jump-start their bodies again, they will look for heat such as the sun.

Saving Energy

Some animals such as the Ringed-tailed Lemur, roadrunners, or the Alpine Ibex will use the sun to help save some energy so their metabolism will not have to do all of the work. This technique is also seen in Fat-tailed Dunnarts, a small marsupial that can be found in the deserts of Australia. They are one of the few animals that bask in the sun in a state of torpor.

Torpor is a temporary state in which the animal’s metabolism and temperature will drop to help save energy if food is running low. One study found that after the dunnarts do this they can survive on about a quarter of the daily food they normally have! How cool is that?

Boosting Vitamins and Busting Viruses 

That’s right. Some species will use the sun to treat specific health issues. For example, there are some birds that will sunbathe to kill parasites such as lice hiding in their feathers.

Ectotherms might use the sun to combat viruses or bacteria. Meanwhile, animals such as Panther Chameleons will soak in the sun to add Vitamin D to its body. When the Panther Chameleon does not get enough vitamins from its diet it will use the rays to help get the vitamins it needs.

Hunting for Food

After staying cool overnight, animals such as lizards will lie in the sun in the morning in order to warm up enough to be able to hunt for food. Some lizards will sit on a rock and wait for prey to come near them, while others will actively hunt. However, both of these techniques require the muscles of these animals to be warm enough for a quick response.

Looking Closer to Home

Though many of these animals may only be found in many countries around the world, let’s have a look at an animal closer to home that loves to apricate. We are talking about the cats in our homes! Cats bask in the sun throughout all four seasons because the rays of the sun help them sleep. While these animals are asleep, their body temperature changes. However, lying in the sun keeps their body temperature stable.

Another one that can be found right here at High Park Nature Centre is the Garter Snake. Snakes are animals that can’t regulate their own body temperature and need the help of the sun. After having food, they need to raise their body temperature. In order to do this, they may hide under a warm rock or extend the part of their body where the prey is digested into the sunlight.

Garter Snakes will hibernate all winter and will bask in the sun for a while. This helps them to build up the energy they need to look and hunt for food.

How interesting is it to learn the many reasons why animals will apricate, even those that are close to home! On your next visit to High Park, look for apricating animals  such as birds, toads or butterflies.. And who knows? You might even find yourself taking some time to apricate!

To learn more about our programs, courses, special events, or ways to get involved, contact us today!