Soap not Included: How Animals and Insects in Nature Stay Clean

Humans rarely go a day without a shower. We are obsessed with staying clean and smelling nice. The dog in the house, however, seems to smell fine without a daily dose of soap and water. Cats are known to lick themselves regularly, and birds can be seen splashing around in puddles after a good rain. Wild animals, such as raccoons and squirrels always mange to look their fluffiest without all the latest specialty shampoos, as well. Unless there is a secret spa somewhere out in the forest, wildlife must have some instinctive ways to stay clean without soap and water. Find out how they take action, and why these practices are important for their health.


A study of insects aimed at finding out how their hair affects their well-being, quickly turned into a much more detailed study. The first thing that was noticed by scientists while preparing for the study, was that no one had taken the time prior to them to find out how much hair is present on the body of an insect. There was a great surprise waiting for them. Instead of the few hairs between the eyes that were originally going to be a part of the study, researchers found hair all over insects. Some insects even have more hair than some mammals.

In nature, it seems like hair contributes to staying clean. Hair may help to keep particles from piling up on the bodies of many creatures. Bees have been videoed in the process of removing large amounts of pollen from their bodies. Bees bend the hairs on their body with their legs, forcing the pollen into the air and away from their bodies. Mosquitoes can suffer from the weight of even one water droplet. Survival is dependent on their mobility. Mosquitos flutter their wings very quickly to get water of off their wings. At times, they may also initiate a fall, on purpose. This fall helps to further remove water droplets.

Flies use a system similar to cats to stay clean. They rub their bodies with their legs to remove dirt, and then lick their legs to remove the particles completely. Stick insects have been seen wiping a contaminated body part on the ground, and ants produce chemicals that harbor antibiotic abilities. This helps them avoid infection. Cicadas have sharp ends on their wings. These can be used to pop bacteria that lands on their body.


Staying clear of debris is a necessity for birds. They cannot fly if their wings are wet or weighted down with dirt. Birds need to fly to get away from predators and hunt for food. Birds can be seen shaking with delight in a birdbath or puddle, but this leaves their wings wet, weighing them down. The preferred method of staying clean for birds is to take a dust bath. They stomp around in the dust and ruffle their feathers. A thorough shake, afterwards, clears dirt and tiny bugs from their bodies. Their beaks are also used for removing things. This process is called preening.

Rhinos and Elephants

Rhinos and elephants are two of many mammals that use the dirt to bathe in like birds. Mud is also a form of bath for these animals. When the dirt and mud dries, the animals shake it off. This helps to remove dead skin. Insects and bacteria that had been hiding out on their bodies is also removed as the dirt falls off. Elephants have the added convenience of a natural shower. They can use their trunks to spray both dirt and water over their bodies for cleaning.

Dogs and Cats

Many pet owners make a big deal out of keeping their dog clean. Regular baths or trips to the grooming facility offer chances to remove dirt and treat for fleas. Veterinarians often warn pet owners not to bathe their dogs too often because it can mess with the natural oil production in their skin. Licking is one way that dogs keep themselves clean. If they notice anything unusual on their body, they immediately lick it off. Mother dogs even lick their babies when they use the bathroom to keep the nesting area clean of waste. You may notice that if you put any kind of medication for a wound on your dog that they immediately lick it off. This is why a cone is necessary when dogs have surgery or an injury. They are capable of reaching the majority of their body in this way.

Dogs can also be seen nibbling on their skin or fur. Their smaller teeth can be used to initiate a small bite to remove debris. Think of this as humans using a comb to remove lice. This action also helps their skin produce more oils. These natural oils help to maintain the cleanliness of skin and fur. It starts at the roots and moves down the hair shaft. Dirt is removed as the oil is distributed. This oil also keeps new dirt from adhering to your pet. Shaking is also a method used by dogs. They shake wildly when they are wet to remove the water, however, a dry shake can also be beneficial. Dirt and loose hairs fall right off. Many dog owners also witness the after diner face wipe. Dogs often rub their faces on the couch, blanket, or even their humans to remove the mess of a meal.

Cats are obsessed with grooming. They can be seen cleaning themselves at almost any time of day. As a result, their coats are almost always clean and shiny. Cats lick their paws and rub their entire bodies repeatedly to remove dirt and critters. They lick between each rub down to rid themselves of any bacteria or pests. Experts suggest that cats clean themselves often to remove any traces of food or scent that may lead predators their way. They also prefer to stay cool, and licking themselves allows them to distribute saliva on their fur. The evaporation of this saliva keeps their body temperature manageable. Like dogs, cats need to lick themselves to help the production and distribution of oils. These oils serve several purposes for cats. They give the fur a waterproof quality, and help the fur to hold in heat during bouts of cold weather. Both dogs and cats use licking to clean wounds. This helps to remove harmful bacteria.

Animals and insects have natural ways of protecting themselves from the environment. The need to stay clean seems to be inherent in most living things. Animals need to stay clean to stay healthy, hide from predators, and keep their coat in its protective state. Insects can meet with a fatality if their bodies become weighed down with too much pollen or water. They need to be able to fly to escape dangerous situations and to get food. Bees, especially, are exposed to a large amount of pollen when they go from plant to plant. Ants are near the ground most of the time. Their close proximity to bacteria in the soil calls for some special defenses. The antibiotic chemicals they produce, keep them safe as they trek through the dirt. Animals in homes and in the natural environment are well-equipped for staying clean, minus the soap.


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