If you are an eastern gray squirrel you bulk up in the fall by eating acorns, seeds and nuts. This results in increased fat reserves to insulate you from the cold and acts as energy reservoirs during long, harsh winters.
These squirrels also cache acorns and other nuts by burying them in the ground. They may not remember where they bury every acorn; those forgotten acorns sprout into trees in the spring.
Eastern gray squirrels seek shelter during winter snow storms and for the coldest winter days. Tree cavities make the ideal shelter, but I have seen them chew bird nesting box openings wide enough to squeeze in for shelter.
When winter temperatures moderate, these rodents come out during the warmer part of the day and forage for those buried acorns. If they are lucky enough to live near bird feeding stations, squirrels use their ingenuity to raid those feeders of sunflower seeds often to the chagrin of its owners.
Although it might seem like a pretty good life, there are many perils even in the winter when raptors are hunting for squirrel for lunch. Foxes are also active at this time of year and if lucky will pounce on squirrels. Despite this, eastern gray squirrels have been successful at adapting not only to the cold weather, but to the suburban environment created by people.
White-tailed Deer do not hibernate for the winter. They do not migrate to warmer climates. These deer weather the frigid winter temperatures and storms through adaptations that took thousands of years to develop.
One adaptation is one that all animals developed to survive the cold. In the summer and fall, when food is plentiful, deer will devour as much nourishment as they can find – acorns, tree leaves and wild grasses. This is important for building up a fat layer under their skin. That fat is different from the dangerous fat that we store. It is a brown fat that will not only keep the deer warm, but is energy rich so when resources are low in the winter, these energy reserves will enable the deer to survive through the winter.
Like many mammals, deer grow a thick coat of fur. Each hair is hollow and filled with air. This helps insulate the deer from the sub-freezing temperatures of the winter.
Another adaptation is the change of behavior of these hoofed animals. In the summer, deer rest during the heat of the day and become active in the evening, and through the night when they forage. Since winter food resources are sometimes hard to find, deer need to conserve as much energy as possible and it takes a lot of energy to stay warm. So when it is the coldest the winter deer change their behavior by being active during the day when it is warmer and bedding down at night.
Deer tend to travel together in small herds in the winter, a process called “yarding”. This is important during winter snows. By being in herds, the deer can tread through the snow one behind the other thus conserving energy. Additionally, when bedding down in the snow the herd can trample the snow together making it easier for them and again conserving energy.
These are some of the strategies deer use to endure winters in the north. While most survive, some deer do not make it. Sometimes it is because of people in the deer’s habitat causing deer to expend more energy than they normally would when fleeing. Sometimes it is because of an unusually harsh winter. Sometimes it is because of an individual deer’s shortcomings. Despite these challenges, white-tailed deer populations are doing quite well.
It is 2018 and the winter is brutal with temperatures hovering around zero degrees and snows blanketing much of the U.S. People survive this weather in heated shelter with ample food supplies and when they do venture out, coats, hats, gloves all help protect them from the cold.
Wildlife also adapt to the harsh winter weather. Many species migrate south to warmer climates. Some burrow into the ground. Others find shelter in tree cavities or rocky dens. Many mammals and birds are active in the winter seeking food and temporary shelter from winter storms.
One animal adapted to the challenges of winter is the raccoon. Raccoons are active all winter. These animals, like many mammals, engorge on food in the fall creating a thick fat reserve to keep them warm and to use for energy to get them through the winter. Additionally, raccoons grow a coat of thick coarse fur that helps conserve energy and like a winter coat that we put on, to stay warm
I was witness to how a raccoon survives when one winter day; snow fell from the sky at a furious pace coating the landscape in a white blanket. Outside my office window a raccoon climbed up to the first crotch in a three-story tall sycamore tree where it rolled into a ball. As the snow fell it coated the raccoon’s fur which made it difficult to see the animal. It stayed in the tree all afternoon and I left it at dusk when I went home to the warmth of my house.
The next morning after 12+ inches fell, I checked the tree and the raccoon was gone. Many birds came to our feeders and deer wandered past my office window. To the wildlife, it was just another day.
While much of the country experienced sub freezing temperatures and even snow, here in Central Florida it is in the 80’s. Some fall wildflowers are still in bloom including this Florida False Sunflower. It is a welcome sight, but even here, temperatures will take a dive close to freezing and most of the blossoms will succumb to the winter cold.
Anne and I did not spend enough time at Red Rock Canyon to find these hooved mammals, but there are petroglyphs of the sheep in the stone walls at the park proving their existence.
Bighorn sheep are well adapted to life in desert canyons. Though water is sparse, grazing on grasses, wildflowers and twigs provides some of the moisture these animals need to survive. They will visit watering holes every few days to drink. These sheep use their hooves and horns to pry the thorns of cacti away so they can eat the juicy insides. Bighorn sheep are diurnal (active during the day) and bed down at night. During extremely hot summer days, these animals rest during the heat of the day and eat at night.
We hope to return some time and “hunt” down these beautiful creatures and “shoot” them through the camera lens.
Many species of snakes live in the Mojave Desert in Red Rock Canyon, some are poisonous, many are harmless. A snake that you are most likely to come across during the day is the Great Basin gopher snake. This is because, unlike other species this snake is active during the day. And sure enough, I came across one during a recent trip to Red Rock.
It is a constrictor and hunts for rats, mice, rabbits and other small desert mammals and reptiles by foraging in the borrows. It often mimics a rattlesnake by shaking its tail against brush when threatened.
Despite scorching heat in the summer and sub-freezing bitter cold in the winter, there are many animals that call the Mojave Desert home. These creatures include reptiles, amphibians, insects, birds and mammals.
These animals are well adapted to this challenging ecosystem. Owls and bats become active at night when it is cooler; owls hunt for small mammals and bats eat insects or sip cacti nectar. Crepuscular wildlife, including snakes, lizards and rodents exit their day time borrows at sunrise and sunset when they are most active. Many birds leave the desert to avoid the harsh summer heat.
Noisy cactus wrens epitomize desert living. These birds rarely drink water. Insects provide nutrition and the liquid these birds need to survive. Cactus wrens forage early and late in the day when temperatures are cooler and roost in the shade of desert trees during the heat of the day.