Fur or feathers provide protection against heat loads from solar radiation for birds and mammals. The red kangaroo (Macropus rufus) and the emu (Dromaius novaehollandiae) are conspicuous in arid environments of Australia where there is potential for high solar loads. The diurnal D. novaehollandiae feeds in the open yet it has a dark coat with a high absorptivity (83%), which contrasts with that of M. rufus (61%), but M. rufus generally shelters in shade during the day. We examined the effect of coat characteristics on the heat load from solar radiation at skin level. Coat depth and density (thermal conductance or insulation) and the level of penetration of solar radiation into the coat were important determinants of solar heat load. For M. rufus less than 25% of incident radiation reached the body at low wind speeds and this diminished to below 15% at moderate wind speeds. In the modest shade M. rufus seeks on summer days, their heat load from solar radiation appears minimal. Colour differences among M. rufus did not affect thermal load. D. novaehollandiae on the other hand is exposed to the full incident solar load in the open but its plumage provides almost complete protection from solar radiation. Solar radiation is absorbed at the feather surface and the insulation provided by the deep coat prevents heat transmission to the skin.
|Publication status||Published - 2004|