How do animals take baths?

Modern humans have a skewed sense of hygiene – we are under the illusion that soaps, shampoos and other cleaning agents such as detergents etc. are making us and our surroundings cleaner. While it is true that these substances do help in controlling bacteria, they also pollute the environment. Soapy water is a poisonous toxin that can cause death upon ingestion! In essence, we are polluting the planet and causing destruction of life – all under the pretext of staying clean. How ironic! Animals, on the other hand, do not have soaps, shampoos etc. but they too take hygiene pretty seriously (and they do it without damaging the environment)!

So how do animals take baths? Well, birds bathe in the dust. They move around in dust and then shake it off vigorously – getting rid of small insects and dirt in the process. They also clean their feathers with their beaks – this behaviour is known as preening. A bird’s survival can depend upon how clean its feathers are. Feathers laden with dirt are heavy and not aerodynamic – this affects the flight speed. If a bird cannot fly fast enough, it may not be able find lunch or it may end up becoming somebody else’s lunch!

Dogs, cats, horses, deer, zebras, elephants etc. also take dust baths. They roll around in sand or mud. This helps to remove dead skin, sweat and insects. Elephants use their drunks to spray water and dust onto their bodies. This helps them to stay cool and the dust acts as a protective barrier against harsh sunlight. Often, animals rub against the bark of trees to scratch an itch.

Humans too took sand/dust baths not too long ago. This practice was especially common among Bedouins who lived in the desert. However, these nomads took ‘normal’ baths with water whenever they came across rivers, streams and lakes.

Cats, tigers, lions, leopards and other felines bathe using their tongues. Their tongues have a rough surface and this helps to scrub away dirt. You may have seen domestic cats taking tongue baths – they wet their paws with their saliva and then use the paws to clean their face and ears. Often, felines chew upon a reed or eat some grass. This helps to clean their teeth and also aids in resolving digestive problems. Dogs, foxes and other felines shake, scratch and bite their own coats to remove dirt and insects.

Monkeys stay clean by grooming each other. They remove debris, lice and other insects from each other’s coats and snack on them! Hippos and water buffaloes are huge animals with limited flexibility but they get help from the aptly named oxpecker birds. Giraffes have incredibly longue tongues. They use them to clean their ears.

The Nile crocodile has a symbiotic relationship with the tiny plover birds. The crocodile lies on the shore with its mouth wide open and the birds eat the meat that is stuck in between the teeth. Plovers are brave birds – not many creatures enter the mouth of crocs and live to tell the tale.

Bees and ants are also very fastidious when it comes to bathing. Ants smear themselves with an oily substance that they produce – this prevents dust and debris from clinging to their bodies. Bees too shake off dust and pollen by beating their wings furiously. They also use their legs and proboscis to clean their eyes. To us, a single speck of dust weighs nothing but a bee can accumulate several times its bodyweight of dust and pollen if it does not clean itself at regular intervals.

Last but not the least, animals bathe under the free natural shower called rain. It is strange that many humans get quite mad when it rains and run for shelter – it is almost as if they are allergic to water. But then, humans are funny creatures!


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