Turns out koalas aren’t just hugging trees so we can all marvel at how adorable they are — they’re actually hugging trees to keep themselves nice and cool in hot weather.
Researchers tracked a group of koalas in their natural habitat in Australia during warm months. With the help of thermal imaging, they found that many of the creatures would cling to the coolest, lowest parts of the trees. Some tree trunks, it turns out, can be more than 5°C cooler than the surrounding air.
Access to those trees can significantly reduce the amount of heat stress for koalas by reducing the amount of water they need to stay cool, according to the study, originally published in the journal Biology Letters. The researchers confirmed that tree-hugging is an important cooling behavior and that tree trunks are an “important microhabitat” for other tree-dwelling animals as well.
Plus, it doesn’t hurt that tree-hugging is just really really cute.