Stuck on Mud
by Kate Hofmann
Mud! It’s squishy and sticky, gooey and gloppy, mucky and messy—and nothing could be nicer for the mud-loving animals you’re about to meet.
Some of them get right in and wallow, wading and rolling until they’re covered from head to tail. That’s how the Cape buffalo above got its mud mask. But it’s not a beauty treatment. The mud covers its whole body and keeps the buffalo cool in the hot African sun. Plus, when the mud dries and flakes off, it takes along any ticks and insects that are bugging the buffalo. But that’s just the beginning. Jump on in to find more reasons to love mud!
Mud is good for building. While this red swamp crayfish dug a burrow, pellets of mud piled up to form a chimney above the entrance. The crayfish spends the day inside the cool, wet burrow, coming out at night to hunt for food.
Mud means mating time. A spadefoot toad buries itself underground to keep its skin moist during the desert’s long dry season. When rain finally comes, the toad pops out into the muddy world to find a mate.
Mud has minerals. Why are these sulphur butterflies hanging out in mud? It’s called “puddling,” and they do it to slurp up salts and other minerals and nutrients that they need.
Mud blocks the sun. This baby African elephant is enjoying a nice, muddy wallow during a rainstorm. An elephant’s skin may look thick and leathery. But it is actually quite thin and sensitive. Elephants—especially babies—can easily get sunburned. That’s why elephants love mud. A thick coat of mud works as sunscreen, protecting their skin from the sun’s strong rays. It also helps elephants stay cool and comfortable.
Food hides in mud. What’s this brown bear searching for? It’s low tide in an Alaskan bay, and lots of clams are buried in the mud on this wide beach. The clams make a tasty treat for a bear that doesn’t mind a mess. Brown bears have powerful paws and long, sharp claws that are perfect for digging up dinner.
Mud can be a cozy home. A fiddler crab lives in a salt marsh or on a muddy beach. It digs a burrow for itself in the mud and hides inside during high tide. When the tide is low, it pops out to search for food and mates. A male fiddler, such as the one above, has one large claw and one small one. He waves his big claw to attract a female to his mud burrow.
Mud keeps skin healthy. Like elephants, hippopotamuses have sensitive skin. They spend their days underwater, with only their eyes, ears, and nostrils sticking out. That’s how they avoid the sun and keep their skin from drying out. But at the end of the dry season, water holes shrink and become mud holes. Hippos have to crowd together and wallow in the mud to protect their skin. Make room for more mud-bathers, everybody!
Mud makes nice nests. The birds above left are black-browed albatrosses—parent and chick. Albatrosses spend most of their lives out at sea, but they return to land to build their large, bowl-shaped nests out of mud. The fuzzy chick will stay in its mud nest until it is ready to soar away on its own.
The wasp also makes her nest from mud. Bit by bit, she collects mud to build the walls of a long tube. Later she will lay an egg deep inside the tube.
Mud is fun. Animals aren’t the only ones that love mud. Kids do, too! These kids look happy to be mucking around in some gloopy, soupy goo. Would you like to try this? Since long-ago times, people have used mud in many of the same ways animals do. They smear on mud as sunscreen. They bathe in mud or cover their faces with mud masks for the health of their skin. Some even build homes out of mud!
Happiness is a mud puddle. Did you know that pigs don’t sweat? Wallowing in mud is how they cool down and stay comfortable. Sometimes people say “happy as a pig in mud.” It means someone is blissfully content, and you can see where it comes from: The pig above sure looks pleased!
A pig might be the first animal you think of when mud comes to mind. But now you know why lots of other animals love mud, too!
"Stuck on Mud" originally appeared in the June/July 2017 issue of Ranger Rick magazine.
Click here for a close-up view of the photos.