Animals can use muscle as internal water source, study says

Avatar By Tyler MacDonald | 12 months ago

As our climate continues to change, so too does the availability of water. And in many case, this leaves animals with unreliable or limited supplies of the essential resource. But a new Arizona State University study suggests that animals might be able to obtain water from their muscles when it’s not available.

“We know about the importance of fat reserves to fuel the energetic costs of reproduction,” said George Brusch IV, lead investigator for the project and doctoral student at Arizona State University. “But what about water? Our study shows that during reproduction, muscle metabolism is linked to the water requirements of developing offspring. Fat is only about 10 percent water, whereas muscle is closer to 75 percent, so burning muscle will release extra water.”

“From an evolutionary perspective, the concept of capital breeding—or using stored resources to fuel reproduction—is currently restricted to energetic needs,” he added. “We propose that this should extend to a broader, multi-resource strategy that also includes water allocation.”

The team examined the effects of water deprivation on reproductive efforts in a population of female Children’s pythons. The study took place during the dry-season in Australia, which is a time when sources of water are very limited.

“Female Children’s pythons can change how they use internal resources based on limitations in the environment,” Brusch said. “Understanding exactly how animals cope with resource restrictions will help scientists predict whether the animals might be impacted by future climate change, where, in many regions, rain is expected to be less reliable.”

The team believes that using muscles as a source of water could be a widespread process.

“Our enhanced knowledge regarding the relationship between hydration and reproductive investment will also enable us to better understand global responses to water limitations and change the way scientists approach reproductive investment in ecological contexts, which, in the past, frequently ignore water and focus solely on energetic resources,” Brusch said.

The findings were published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences.