According to this article, the word ‘tree hugger’ was coined in 1730 to describe a hundreds of Bishnoi villagers in India who clung to the trees of their home to prevent them from being cut down for the construction of a palace. The non-violent form of protest was adopted in the 1970s by the Chipko women of northeast India, who clung to trees to stop them from being clear cut.
There are those who hug trees to protect them, those who hug trees because they feel it helps ease the mind, and those who are called tree huggers not so much because they actually hug trees, but because they embrace the idea that the environment is worth protecting.
I would count myself among the third group.
Koalas hug trees for their own marsupial reasons. Picture a koala in your mind – is it sitting in a tree with its little arms wrapped around a tree trunk? My imaginary dozy koala is. I never gave it much thought, but a couple of researchers in Australia did. And in a new study published in Biology Letters, ‘Tree-hugging koalas demonstrate a novel thermoregulatory mechanism for arboreal mammals‘, they show that the trees koalas most like to hug are not the eucalyptus trees (which provide their main food source), but acacia trees. Why?
When the researchers studied the trees, they found that the acacia trees had trunk temperatures that were up to 5° C (9° F) lower than the surrounding air, and cooler than the other tree trunks. Koalas are using tree trunks to cool themselves in a hot climate where panting – the usual method of koala body temperature regulation – would cause the animals to lose precious water. Tree-clinging koalas lost half as much water through evaporation compared to other koalas.
The research team is working on models to predict how animals like the koala adapt to climate change. In the case of the marsupials, it might be that they will survive by changing their habitat range and find other cooling trees to cling to as the air grows hotter around them.
As a tree hugger in a changing world, it’s important to find the right tree.
I would be remiss if I didn’t point readers in the direction of another koala-related cooling device, the Hot Koala cocktail.