Neat: Lizards Can Store Rainwater in Their Skin

western fence lizard
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The desert is one place you definitely don't want to be if you lack a ready supply of drinking water. For animals that call this ecosystem home, that means that they need to be able and ready to procure whatever small amounts of water they can muster whenever the opportunity knocks. A new study by Wade Sherbrooke of the American Museum of Natural History's Southwestern Research Station has found that certain species of lizards have devised a unique way of dealing with this predicament: storing water in a network of tiny channels in their skin.

The networks within the spaces between their scales can absorb water from the ground or from rainwater and carry it to their mouth for drinking. Sherbrooke and his colleagues at Australia's James Cook University used a combination of light and electron microscopes to scrutinize the lizards' scale hinges and found that they contain tube-like channels capable of employing capillary forces to transport water. One of the species they studied, the Australian thorny devil (Moloch horridus), possessed a network that covered its entire body and that could carry water to an area near the corner of its mouth.

network of tiny channels

The only point that remains unclear is how exactly the lizards are able to keep water flowing towards their mouth. Kurt Schwenk, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Connecticut, hypothesizes that the repetitive tongue movements made by the lizards may play a role in this — perhaps by moving water into the mouth little by little so that more gets absorbed to take its place.

Via ::ScienceNOW: Well, That's One Way to Get a Drink (news website)

Images courtesy of Science and einarfour via flickr