• Rose Smith

How Do Animals Deal with the Winter?

Pictured Above: Arctic Fox

Photo Source: Wikimedia Commons

While the winter months can be harsh, most of us as humans are able to at least duck into our homes with nice heating and blankets. However for our animal friends out in the wilderness, they have to cope with the harsher elements that winter brings. Luckily, there are different ways for them to adapt.

Hibernation is possibly the most iconic form of winter adaptation, where the animal goes into a deep period of slumber or suspended activity for prolonged periods of time. Even though most of the time we tend to use the term hibernation for whenever an animal goes to sleep in the winter. However, there are actually different kinds of hibernation. Hibernation is technically only for mammals (Animal Network). What distinguishes hibernating from simply sleeping is that hibernating animals’ heart rate and body temperature will drop drastically down, and unlike sleeping animals, hibernating animals won’t wake up from their slumber until spring, even if their den is damaged. Sleeping animals will wake up when it’s warm enough or they have been disturbed. For cold blooded animals, they actually don’t hibernate but go through a process called brumation. Cold-blooded animals still go into a deep sleep, but their body temperatures are the same as the air temperature around it. If the weather warms up before spring, the animal wakes up. Invertebrates like ladybugs do an especially interesting kind of hibernation called diapause (Smithsonian). During the winter months, insects’ growth and functions suspend, leaving themselves with just enough of a metabolic rate to keep them alive.

While some animals retreat to their dens and hiding places to sleep through the winter, others attempt to adapt to the surroundings around them. For instance, arctic foxes, as their name implies, have different tools at their disposal, including their iconic white fur to keep them camouflaged (Cool Green Science). Another thing that has to be considered is their ability to walk on the icy ground with only their footpads without getting frostbitten. Luckily, between the membrane structure and the fat content of their foot pads, the tissue of their feet don’t get damaged when their paws hit cool temperatures. Another thing that animals have to deal with is the shorter days and the longer nights. To help adjust for these new conditions, reindeers’ eyes turn different colors (The Independent). In the summer months, reindeer eyes are a gold color, but as the days begin to get longer, the pressure within their eyes change, changing their eyes blue and dilating them to be able to see better in the dark. This allows them to find food and avoid predators easier.

While the winter can produce beautiful landscapes of white snow and bare trees, the cold weather can prove to be exceedingly harsh for animals. Fortunately, animals have developed strategies to cope with the winter months. While some migrate to warmer places, others go into deep states of hibernation, and some even try to stick the winter out and resist the elements. This goes to show that animals can be unbelievably interesting, and there are plenty of ways for them to deal with the winter months.