By definition, an ectotherm uses environmental heat sources to regulate its own body temperature. The most common forms of body heat regulation that we observe from ectotherms here on Earth are:

  • basking
  • changing colors
  • soaking
  • burrowing
  • clustering together with others

Some of these may be universally suited for a variety of planetary climate regimes, however certain planets may not accommodate any of those listed above. For the purposes of this question, we are assuming a bit of an extreme world, but not so extreme as to nullify all chances of life. Ideally, by "life", life as we know it is implied, however life as we know it may have never faced a world quite like this one:


This planet's defining characteristic is it has constant winds blowing at 90-100 miles per hour. This world's surface is covered 100% by obsidian, making it too hard to burrow in. The sky of the world is covered by perpetual clouds, making basking not viable (which would otherwise be great, since obsidian is black). I'm not sure how fresh water is obtained in this world yet, consider this out of the scope of the question. The ambient temperature of the planet is pretty hot, but the thermal dynamics of the constant winds counteract this. The ectotherms can be assumed to still be able to survive at this lower net-balance temperature that is induced by the winds. But of course, they would stand to gain much if they could become faster and more active by somehow harnessing the readily available wind to increase their body temperature.


Is there anything in existence in biology that could be brought to bear for the design of this creature, enabling it to generate heat from wind from the environment? If not, what is one plausible solution that would not utterly mortify biologists? I don't want this creature to be dismissed as "impossible," but at the same time, I still have my doubts. Even under extremely specific circumstances, maybe the ectotherm playbook has no more tricks in store.

Further Clarifications:

  • Assume all other ways of regulating body heat don't work, and the only way to increase it is to somehow harness the wind. Assume even clustering together doesn't work (perhaps resource scarcity, cannibalism within the species, whatever floats your boat)
  • Assume the ectotherms don't die of exposure from the wind but are instead just sluggish
  • Assume everything else not specified in the Planet section is life-friendly (breathable air, etc) Also, water acquisition is out of scope (otherwise soaking might be viable)
  • Sluggish body temperature (without harnessing wind): 15°C
  • Optimal body temperature: 28-30°C
  • Size of creature: can be configurable, but no smaller than a Komodo dragon

Success Metric: The longer the optimal temperature is maintained, the better.

  • $\begingroup$ what is their body temperature? $\endgroup$ – L.Dutch Jul 8 '18 at 18:13
  • $\begingroup$ @L.Dutch Just updated with the figures; it took me a bit to work the numbers out. $\endgroup$ – Arash Howaida Jul 8 '18 at 18:24

The first method to generate heat that comes to mind is by means of compression. According to thermodynamics, compressing a gas heats it up. So, if the creature has a way to channel the wind through an orifice or similar in its body, it could potentially harness some of the heat that would be generated where the air is condensed. Kinda like a long, open funnel through the creature's body that catches the wind and compresses it as it runs through, heating up the end of the funnel with the smaller diameter. The creature would require a way to tightly hold onto the ground in order to prevent being picked up by the wind, but with 90-100 mph winds constantly, it'll need that anyway. If you ever used a manual bike pump, you might have noticed that the egress for the air heats up substantially after even short usage - it's the same principle.

Something else to consider is the size of the creature, which you haven't addressed in your question. Large creatues handle body heat very differently from small ones, as they have much less of a need to generate it as they cool down a lot slower. Kurzgesagt made a great video on it, which can be found on YouTube under "The size of life". I imagine any creature on this planet would be quite large anyway to reduce the area-to-weight ratio, making them more resistible to being picked up by the wind.

  • $\begingroup$ very cool insights. I added in the clarifications that size can be configured as desired. Minimum size is komodo dragon. $\endgroup$ – Arash Howaida Jul 8 '18 at 18:26
  • $\begingroup$ Welcome to Worldbuilding, Mookuh! If you have a moment please take the tour and visit the help center to learn more about the site. You may also find Worldbuilding Meta and The Sandbox (both of which require 5 rep to post on) useful. Have fun! $\endgroup$ – FoxElemental Jul 8 '18 at 18:32
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    $\begingroup$ All I can picture now are parachute-like-lizards. $\endgroup$ – Joe Bloggs Jul 8 '18 at 19:36
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    $\begingroup$ The image I had in mind was fairly massive, bulky creatures with a strange looking funnel over their heads. I'm not sure if a channel winding through their bodies to distribute the heat would work. Another consideration could be membranes insinde the wind channel / on their flanks that reverberate in the wind and thus generate heat from their own movement - but surface areas like that also lose a lot of heat. $\endgroup$ – Mookuh Jul 8 '18 at 20:18

A world covered in obsidian is by definition volcanic in nature, as such specialist ectotherms could find large naturally warm areas on the surface were geothermal fluids were close to the surface. They may also be able to bask in fumaroles or similar outlets of hot gas or liquid. Unless the topography is dead flat in every direction colonies should also be able to shelter effectively in wind shadows behind hills etc..., out of the prevailing wind thus reducing their thermal energy needs markedly compared to wind exposed colonies.


What about a creature whose body has a structure that looks suspiciously like a vortex tube? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vortex_tube

The constant wind present on this planet means that the creature has a ready source of moving air to redirect into its internal structure.

Of course this means it has a hot end and a cold end, but the cold end could be used to condense water vapor from the air for drinking, while the hot end would be where the brain and other important bits are kept.

The creature could self-regulate the vortex tube process by simply turning towards or away from the oncoming wind, or by some other means.

Going further, the creature could have a large mouth which serves to capture and compress a large amount of air, but could also be used to catch other, smaller creatures for eating.


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