by Julie Hart; Illustrated by Georgia Plambeck
As winter approaches we all tend to become less active, spend more time indoors and bundle up against the cold. With less access to fresh local food we rely on stored provisions, while some of us just skip the whole season by moving to a warmer location. Humans can rely on grocery stores and central heating to survive the winter, but what about plants and animals? They have a variety of strategies, and some of them may sound familiar…
PREPARE FOR IT As the days grow shorter, animals that will be active during the winter (such as fox, bobcat, beaver and coyote) accumulate fat in their bodies and grow a warmer, more insulating coat of fur. Meanwhile, deciduous trees and perennial plants pull nutrients and food stores from their leaves into their roots for storage. They will remain dormant until spring, when warmer days signal that it is time to grow new foliage for next year’s photosynthesis.
TOUGH IT OUT Finding shelter is a must: owls and squirrels often live in hollow trees, while deer tend to spend more time in conifer forests where they are more protected from the elements. Another strategy is to stock up on food: chipmunks hoard food in their burrows, while beaver gather tree branches and store them underwater near their lodge, so they’ll have lots of tasty inner bark to munch on all winter.
TAKE A NAP When temperatures drop and little food is available, reducing your metabolic rate and taking a long nap is one way to pass the time. In warm-blooded animals such as woodchuck and black bear, we call this hibernation or torpor; winter dormancy in reptiles like turtles and snakes is called brumation; and for insects (who may overwinter as an egg, larva, pupa or adult, depending on the species) this period of inactivity is known as diapause.
JUST SKIP THE WHOLE THING Many birds (and some whales, though you seldom see them around here!) migrate long distances to spend the winter in the tropics, while the white-footed mouse may migrate a short distance (like into your house) to find a warmer winter home. Annual plants such as marigolds and poppies have already dispersed their seeds; though the plants will die with the first hard frost, they have done their best to ensure another generation grows next spring.