Winter in the Ozarks is a serious matter. Not only can it come on quickly, it often lasts for months and comes with plenty of intense cold, snow and icy conditions. For us this can simply mean dressing warmer and cranking up the heat, but have you ever thought about how animals handle the winter?
As uncomfortable as the cold can be, animals are very good at learning how to adapt and survive. Today we are going to look at some of the many adaptations animals have for coping with the cold.
Season specific adaptations: One of the ways animals endure the cold weather is by adding on fat to act as an insulation. This not only keeps them warmer, it can provide extra calories when food is harder to get. Bears are a great example of this, packing on extra pounds before the winter sets in to help them make it through to spring. Additionally, some animals actually change their coats to become more white in preparation for the snow. This makes it hard for predators to see them in the snow. Hare and weasels are common examples of this, but there are other animals that also turn white for winter.
Migration: If you can’t handle the cold, leave it! Migration simply refers to seasonal moving from one area to the other, often in search of less harsh weather and more access to food supplies. When the season changes, they move back and repeat the pattern yearly. This lets them escape the harsh weather and limited food that comes with winter. Many animals, including birds, wildebeests, whales and even some insects!
Hibernating: Hibernation refers to the process in which an animal’s metabolism slows down. This reduces their need for calories, allowing them to survive the winter with limited food and water. This not only protects them when food supplies are low, it means they don’t have to risk harm or expend energy searching for food. There are actually different types of hibernation, and it is important to understand that hibernating is different than just sleeping. Before they hibernate, animals will gain weight, and find a safe place that won’t leave them vulnerable.
Of course, not every animal undergoes a dramatic change for the winter. Some simply prepare by creating caches of food to help them wait out the winter. This protects them from food scarcity, and limits the need to be out in the cold. Beavers and squirrels do this, and it’s an effective tactic. Other animals have simply evolved to be well-suited to survive harsh environments, such as the arctic wolf.
No matter how they do it though, it is pretty amazing that animals can thrive in the winter without the ability to light up a fire or bundle up!