Endlessly Adaptable Animals

Dr. Dolittle spent a few days at the Experimental Biology meeting of the American Physiological Society, learning incredible facts about animal adaptability. In the Sunday session, researchers showed that metabolic byproducts called ketones can protect against seizures caused by hyperbaric oxygen therapy, while seal pups, who fast for up to three months once weaned, increase their insulin resistance and become effectively diabetic. Monday taught us that insects lack lungs, instead exchanging gas through tiny valves called spiracles along their abdomen, while a Burmese python, after eating a meal up to 25% of its body weight, develops an enlarged heart to facilitate metabolism. From Tuesday Dr. Dolittle reports the pitfalls of doping elephants with LSD, and that specialized mitochondria supercharge hummingbird wings and rattlesnake tails. There are even more findings about low-oxygen, or hypoxic, adaptations, including turtle shells that prevent lactic acid buildup, and one researcher who raised geese so she could train them to fly in a wind tunnel while wearing gas masks.

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