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In Last-Ditch Attempt to Find Water, a Chameleon is Mummified by the Sun

Jun 23, 2017 03:43 PM EDT
Kruger National Park

(Photo : Getty Images)

After losing its race with thirst on the very handle of a water pump, an Indian chameleon has been mummified in the hot Indian sun.

The startling image was snapped by National Geographic filmmaker Romini Jakki and uploaded to Twitter

The eyes were holes where the ants entered and cleaned out the insides, leaving a perfect mummified carcass. Nature seems to be giving us the "canary in the coal mine" sign that the extreme heat affecting tropical climates will be more of a factor in survival there in the coming years.

The chameleon was gripping on to a water faucet that had been turned off. It never turned on for this unfortunate reptile who died waiting for a drink of water.

"All animals can handle temperatures up to a certain limit," says Jeanine Refsnider, a herpetologist at The University of Toledo "and if the temperatures get beyond that, your proteins actually start to unfold. At the cellular level, your cells start to fall apart, and once that happens you can't really reverse it."

Heat waves are on the rise and can be expected to get longer and hotter over the next century. Scientists blame climate change. Reptiles may be especially hard hot by extreme warming trends. Because reptiles are ectotherms, they cannot regulate their own body temperature. If they get hot, they can't sweat like a human or pant like a dog. Their temperature is based on what is around them.

"A lot of these reptiles who live in the desert or tropics, they're in areas that are already almost as hot as they can survive, so even a small increase in temperature beyond that could push them into pretty severe heat stress," says Refsnider.

The heat brings other problems for the reptiles as well. Reptiles lay eggs and temperature is a large factor in the sex of the babies inside those eggs. The temperature at which eggs are incubated determines the sex. If it becomes too warm, all the eggs will end up being male.

An example of this is already being seen in Australia where a tuatara population has been affected by extreme heat so much that most of the offspring are now male.

According to Refsnider, some animals, like the painted turtle, have shown signs of being able to adapt to this change in temperature and have been laying eggs in cooler shadier places during hotter months.

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