Are the mornings getting colder and darker for you? Do you sometimes wish you could stay in bed and snooze the day away?
If you do, you’re not alone. As we head into December, we can discover the many different ways animals live through the dark cold days of the winter months.
We’re lucky. We all live inside warm houses, put on extra layers of clothes and eat plenty of good healthy food that enables us to keep warm, but what happens to the animals when it gets cold out? Where do they go for food and shelter? How do their lives change with the seasons?
Some animals, like bears, hibernate in the winter, going into a very deep sleep. Hibernating animals usually retreat to a den, a burrow or a hollow log for protection and shelter.
During “true hibernation,” the animal's body temperature drops, and its rate of breathing slows down. By doing this, they are able to conserve energy. These hibernating animals are very difficult to awaken.
Most animals will eat large amounts of food before hibernating, adding body fat that will nourish them during the winter. Occasionally, hibernating animals will awaken during the winter to eat. When hibernating animals awaken in the spring, they are very hungry.
Beavers cut a winter supply of twigs to eat and store them under the water near their lodges before the water freezes. Here in the relative warmth of their lodge, with the insulation of their fur and body fat, they spend the winter days with their family, not hibernating, but quiet and comfortable.
Whitetail deer don’t hibernate either. For them winter can be very hard, as the snow covers the grass and other foods that they have come to enjoy during the summer months. For food, they will often eat the bark off of trees or the buds of saplings.
In a heavy snow, they will bed down in a hemlock stand that acts like a roof to keep the weather off. When spring comes, they are very hungry and you will often see them scavenging in your backyard trying to eat anything that they can find.
Turtles and frogs are cold-blooded. That means that their body temperature changes in response to the outdoor temperature.
When the days get cold they bury themselves in the mud at the bottom of the pond and stay very still awaiting warmer temperatures. You will often find salamanders in their moist winter homes under leaves and rocks in the woods. Insects have many different ways of wintering over, probably as many as there are different kinds of insects. Ants winter in the leaves of plants in the meadow, while a gall moth hides within swellings on goldenrods.
Tiny beetles crawl into cracks in the tree bark where woodpeckers sometimes find them. Insects that live on the surface of the ground usually go beneath the soil, and those that live in the soil go down even deeper.
A grasshopper lays eggs in the ground, where they winter till the warmer days of spring. A winter with lots of snow is a good one for many insects as the snow helps insulate them, keeping them from freezing.
As December arrives, bundle up and venture out into the woods. See how many signs of animals wintering over you can discover. Become a nature detective!
The stories will unfold as the seasons change. This is also an excellent time to start a nature journal, recording your findings. The wonderful thing about a nature journal is that you can draw pictures to help you visualize and keep track of what you see.
Belle Coles an environmental educator at Bonnyvale Environmental Education Center.