It is officially November! All around us, trees are shedding their summer skins to make way for a winter slumber. While the weather still allows us to enjoy some measure of comfort in the outdoors without the numbing chill, it is slowly beginning to make its presence more apparent through cold tinges in the air. Around this time last year, it seemed as if we skipped autumn entirely—one day it was summery and full of the sun’s blissful brightness, and the next saw the dimness of winter and a freeze seeped into our bones, knocking our teeth together as we rubbed our arms in a desperate attempt to retain heat.
Luckily, many of us have heated homes and thick jackets to bundle in once winter fully strikes. But where does various wildlife go in the winter? What happens to them as the earth snows itself to sleep for a couple of months? The answer is that it depends on the species!
Each species has developed a unique approach to winter survival that allows them to maintain their existence in the ecosystem. For instance, large species, such as the white-tailed deer, change fur colors in the winter, transforming from a beautiful copper hair into a gray-brown winter coat during wintertime.This adaptive ability is useful as the gray-brown winter coat has hollow hair shafts and a dense underfur that keeps deer insulated during harsh winter conditions. During the fall months, deer also start to store body fat around their skin and internal organs, which is helpful for diet changes when they switch from high to low protein intake. Disregarding the movement patterns of these regally impressive species, deer survive in groups with fawns traveling closely alongside adults to preserve their numbers during the spring and summer months, due to the possibility of a high mortality rate if winters become too severe.
On the other hand, other species such as birds and monarch butterflies deal with winter through migration.While some birds do migrate during winter months, many bird species generally don’t. This migration pattern is largely due to the availability of food sources during winter; if there’s a food source that’s readily available, there is no viable reason to migrate. For this reason, you may still see chickadees and blue jays during winter, but not birds such as swallows and hummingbirds, who migrate either North or South depending on the viable food source available.
Aside from the common method of migration, though, another way for animals to deal with winter is through hibernation.
Typically the term “hibernation” is assigned to deep hibernating animals like rodents, but has since expanded to include bears, other mammals, and even snakes. The act of hibernation is the state of inactivity that involves a decrease in body temperature and a slowing of breathing, heart rate, and metabolic rate to conserve as much energy as possible during the winter months when food is scarce. It is worth noting that true hibernation is only with warm-blooded animals, though. Animals such as snakes undergo what is called “brumation,” a state where the animals are awake yet exhibit typical hibernation behaviors.Then there are insects, such as grasshoppers and praying mantis’s, whose lives are much shorter. These insects do not survive in winter, dying once the cold settles in. As such, they survive by leaving their eggs in the ground, which hatch as the weather becomes warmer when spring rolls around. It seems like harsh lives for insects such as the praying mantis, which only survive during three seasons, but they are actually doing perfectly well. And so are the other animals. Being in the wild during winter and surviving it through the spring has shown them to be extremely resilient to weather conditions, even developing abilities to the extent of altering their own physiological components to survive.
Despite the harsh weather conditions, animals manage to work their way around it and continually impress us with their resiliency. Wildlife is indeed amazing!
But while we still have a few days or weeks of autumnal sunshine, don’t forget that you can still take some time to watch wildlife through the Pocket Ranger® mobile apps available in your state! Find us in Apple Store and Google Play. Happy wildlife watching!