As we walk the trails at Tyler during the winter, we see some of our animals have chosen to remain and stay active. Many make changes in their behavior and their bodies. To keep warm, animals may grow newer, thicker fur in the fall. Foxes grow thicker fur on both their bodies and their tails. They wrap their tails around themselves when sleeping as a defense layer against cold and snow, which helps to keep them warm. They even have a counter-current heat mechanism in their paws, meaning their feet stay at a lower temperature then the rest of their bodies to help prevent too much heat from escaping via contact with the cold and icy ground.
Food is hard to find in the winter. Some animals like squirrels, mice, and honeybees gather extra food in the fall and store it eat later. Others like rabbits, and deer, spend winter looking for moss twigs, barks, and leaves to eat. Tyler’s red foxes eat fruit and insects in the spring, summer, and fall. In winter, they cannot find these things, so instead they eat rabbits, squirrels, mice, and voles.
With their supersonic hearing and exceptional sense of smell, foxes can trace prey in the winter irrespective of inclement weather. In fact, foxes can trace the scent of a mouse or vole over the length of a football field, which is a trait they need to have for their survival. What can I say, it’s a circle of life thing!
When it comes finding winter shelter some of the animals at Tyler shelter in holes in trees and logs, under rocks and leaves, or underground. Some animals like squirrels and honeybees huddle close together to try and stay warm.
Other Ways to Survive
Cold blooded animals like fish, frogs, turtles in Tyler’s Pond, and the snakes in our meadows and forests have no way to keep warm during the winter. Snakes and other reptiles find shelter in holes and burrows and spend the winter inactive or dormant like hibernation. Frogs, fish, and turtles hide under rocks, logs or fallen leaves or mud in the pond. Cold water holds more oxygen than warm water. Frogs and turtles, breath by absorbing this oxygen through their skin.
Insects look for winter shelter in holes in the ground, under the barks of trees, and deep inside rotting logs or in any small crack they can find.
One of the most interesting places insects overwinter is in a gall, the place where a plant swells, caused by certain insects, fungi or bacteria which make a chemical affecting the plant’s growth in a small area, forming a lump. The gall then becomes a home and a food source.
Many insects at Tyler spend the winter dormant, or in the “diapause.” Diapause is similar to hibernation. It is a time when growth and development stop.
During this time, the insect’s heartbeat slows, and breathing and temperature drops. Animals like hummingbirds and little brown bats become dormant for part of the day.
Some insects spend the winter as worm-like larvae. Others spend the winter as pupae. Other insects die after laying the eggs in the fall. The eggs hatch into new insects in the spring and everything begins all over again.
Interested in learning more about what insects and bees do in the winter? Check out these resources: