Nature Connection #6 – Surviving Winter

This week’s Nature Connection is a bit different. We are now in the ‘dead of winter.’ It’s cold outside, and the world seems frozen. I am curious about how creatures – from insects to fish to birds – survive. Here are a few tidbits about the special social and physical adaptations that enable different creatures to survive these cold weather days. (This information is taken from Chris Hardman’s Ecological Calendar 2012, available through Pomegranate Communications, Inc., www.pomegranate.com.) 

LayLadyLay. During hibernation, ladybugs gather into groups to create enough warmth to survive. They establish these formations by emitting a chemical pheromone that ladybugs within a quarter mile can detect. The pheromones persist season after season as a landmark to future generations in search of wintertime shelter. 

SneakyScavenger.
The arctic fox often follows polar bears, hoping to eat their leftover scraps. The fox relies on the camouflage of its snowy white coat to avoid becoming a polar bear meal itself.

DarkDistinctions. The snowy owl derives its name from its plumage, but only the males develop the iconic snow white feathers that create a perfect blend between bird and habitat.

MuddledUp. The North American stinkpot turtle spends the winter nuzzled deep in mud, after fattening up on both plants and small animals.

AntiCrystalCod. The arctic cod swims in water that is below the freezing point of its blood, but its flesh contains unique proteins that act as an antifreeze mechanism. These antifeeze proteins bind to blood-borne ice crystals and stop them from expanding.

ChillyChickadees. Black-capped chickadees, unlike many birds, do not fly south for winter. They shiver and huddle together to stay warm. Social adaptations like these, in addition to their high-fat, high-protein winter diet, defend chickadees against the cold.

FreshFur. It is important that sea otters live near fresh water, such as coastlines with running rivers, so that they can rinse salt out of their fur to preserve its insulating quality. To catch enough fish to maintain body warmth, sea otters hunt in the cold depths more frequently in winter.

BlackBearBabes. Black bear young are born blind and naked in January or Febrary in sets of two or three every other year and stay with their protective mother for about two years. Common in forested parts of North America, they roam large areas of land from spring to fall looking for food and winter dens.

OrganicSolution. The larvae of the mountain pine beetle, a plague to many species of northen pine trees, are able to survive intense winters by living under tree bark. They avoid freezing by metabolizing glycerol, an alcohol that acts as antifreeze.

RockNRest. The sagebrush lizard, a native to the western United States, spends the winter hibernating in the crevices of rocks or in mammals’ burrows. These lizards live in sagebrush, brushland, and open-forested habitats.

RestingRedReptiles. The red-sided garter snake is the northernmost reptile in North America. It is one of seven distinct subspecies of the common garter snake and spends winter below the frost line sleeping soundly.

DirtyDiggers. Earthworms, one of nature’s major decomposers, are very sensitive to changes in temperature. Reproduction occurs primarily when the soil is between 55 degrees F and 80 degrees F, and if the soil drops below 32 degrees F, worms will die. Some species burrow deep underground to escape winter’s frigid surface soil.

Are there animals you see in winter that you wonder about? Send me a comment, and I’ll research them for you!

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