Something Wild
12:00 am
Fri December 9, 2011

Winter Survival Strategies

For wildlife, it's time to display winter survival adaptations … or a lack thereof. What strategy will you choose? Your options to deal with winter are limited to five basic strategies:

#1) Die - Annual plants and many adult insects die-off, leaving offspring as seeds, eggs or larval caterpillars or aquatic nymphs. People avoid this strategy; too radical.

#2) Don't live here - Leave. Songbirds, hawks, waterfowl, several bats, monarch butterflies and resident human "snowbirds" migrate south to warmer climes.

#3) Remain inactive all the time - Hibernate - True hibernating mammals include only woodchucks and woodland jumping mice whose deep sleep metabolic rates and body temperatures plummet to a near-death state for months.

#4) Remain inactivemost of the time - Bears, skunks, raccoons, chipmunks are among common mammals who sleep away the coldest days in a "winter torpor" that includes lowered metabolic rates. During warm spells they awaken in dens and may even leave for short periods of limited activity before returning to their light sleep. Human couch potatoes use this strategy.

#5) Be active - Be very active - Carnivores: foxes, coyotes, bobcats and weasels are active hunters. Herbivores like snowshoe hares, moose and porcupines and rodents including squirrels and beavers remain active, feeding on twigs, bark or stored seeds.

Tracks in snow reveal the species most active are best-adapted to consume and conserve precious calories during our long northern winter.

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