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Wildlife in Winter

Years ago, my roommates and I made a pact not to touch the thermostat until November 1st. Through some unusually cold October evenings, we shivered under blankets and found excuses to use the oven - - “you know,” I remember saying “I think I will have roasted sweet potatoes for the third time this week.” Throughout the rest of fall and winter, I was particularly grateful for heat.  How on earth, I thought frequently, do animals survive this?

If you’ve ever asked yourself the same question, here’s a spotlight on three CT critters with unique adaptive strategies for surviving winter:

Frogs: Different species of frogs have different strategies for surviving the harsh winter months. Some frogs hibernate beneath the mud of bodies of water, while others hibernate on land by digging into the soil or squeezing into cracks in logs or rocks. Some frogs, such as spring peepers and wood frogs, actually freeze during the winter. How do they survive it?! While ice crystals form in some parts of a hibernating frogs’ body, high concentrations of glucose present in a frog’s vital organs keep them from freezing (nature’s antifreeze!). Despite the fact that a semi-frozen frog will stop breathing, its heart and lungs will start functioning again when temperatures rise in the spring.

Bumblebees: Unlike honeybees, bumblebees do not maintain colonies throughout the winter months. At the end of the summer, a colony of bumblebees will raise a brood that includes multiple queens. After mating, a young queen will hibernate in a small nest in the ground, while the older queens, workers, and males die. While in hibernation, a young queen will slow her metabolism in order to survive without food until spring. When the temperature warms, she will build herself a small pot made of wax to fill with honey, and will feed off this food source while sitting on her eggs to keep them warm.

Deer: During the fall, deer are hard at work accumulating and storing body fat under their skin and around their organs. The extra padding serves as an energy reserve for the long winter months, as well as insulation. Further, much like CT residents, deer have different summer and winter attire. After the summer and fall months, deer shed their reddish, hair coat and grow a gray-brown winter coat. The winter coat has a wool-like undercoat for warmth, and hollow longer hairs for insulation. 

**If you want to learn about how bunnies and/or bats survive winter, come to CFPA on November 3rd (bunnies) or November 15th (bats) and ask an expert!