Discover Nature NotesMore posts

Nature's Winter Coat

Jan 19, 2020

When winter winds chill us to the bone, we bundle up in sweaters, down vests and fleece parkas. Wild animals, on the other hand, must endure the cold.

A mammal’s fur and its thick layers of fat provide insulation that conserves body heat. Fur is made of two kinds of hair: guard hairs and underfur. Guard hairs are long and glossy and lay over the shorter, duller, downier underfur. Guard hairs waterproof the animal’s coat by blocking moisture and keeping the underfur dry. They also protect the underfur from wear. Underfur traps air warmed by the animal’s body heat and insulates the animal from the frigid air outside.

In North America, the length and thickness of an animal’s fur is greatest sometime between November and March. This winter coat is referred to as “prime,” when the animal’s fur is prime. Its skin turns blue or creamy white. This occurs because the blood supply to the hair decreases and production of hair pigments stop.

In spring, mammals begin to shed their fur. Some species shed twice a year, in spring and fall, while others shed continuously from early summer through fall.

What methods do animals use to survive winter?

  • Adaptations: Some animas such as the deer, elk and bison have adapted to co-exist with the cold, using their hooves and muzzles to clear snow away from plants they need to eat to survive. They also grow thicker, shaggier coats.
  • Hibernation: Deep snow can prevent some animals from finding food, but it also acts like a blanket, keeping the ground beneath it warmer than the surrounding air temperature. Some animals take advantage of snow's insulation, and cope with the cold season by building in a protective den or burrow and going into a deep, long sleep, a process called hibernation.
  • Migration: Some animals simply choose to leave cold regions during the toughest seasons.

For more on how animals survive the cold, visit the National Snow and Ice Data Center’s website.

coyote.jpg

coyote in snow
Coyotes check their populations through call and response

Birds In Winter - Discover Nature (KRCG)

Discover how birds keep warm in winter
Discover how birds keep warm in winter

Recent Posts

prairie warbler

Bird Echoes

Apr 06, 2020

Like airplanes and thunderstorms, flocks of migrating birds can be tracked by radar. Learn how scientist's are tracking spring migrations in this week's Discover Nature Notes.

 

seedling form cover

Healthy Trees and Arbor Day

Mar 30, 2020

Celebrate Arbor Day from home this month by identifying backyard trees, planting native trees, and removing invasive trees. Discover how in this week's Discover Nature Note.

Katy Trail

Missouri Moments in Nature

Mar 23, 2020

There may be places near you to have a Missouri moment in Nature while social distancing. Discover these in pictures and video in this week's Discover Nature Note. Please observe all health and travel advisories before heading out to a conservation area near you.

Field Guide

Discovering nature from A-Z is one click away

Recipes

You had fun hunting, catching or gathering your quarry—now have more fun cooking and eating it.
Check out the recipes