What's Snowing On?

By Bonnie Chasteen | artwork by Mark Raithel | November 1, 2016
From Xplor: November/December 2016

A blanket of fresh snow can mean a day of sledding for you, but it is a mixed blessing for animals trying to survive winter in the wild. Let’s take a walk and see how some Missouri critters spend their snow days.

  • In old fields and pastures, prairie voles tunnel through the snow, nibbling grass and tree bark. Are they safer from predators by being under the snow? Depends on who’s doing the hunting. Voles can produce as many as 17 litters or up to more than 80 young per year.
  • Hawks hunt mostly by sight. While snow hides small prey like cottontail rabbits from view, it also makes them easier to see when they come out to feed. Red-tailed hawks are common statewide and easily seen during winter.
  • Even if coyotes can’t see voles and mice traveling under the snow, they can still catch them. Listening carefully, they pounce and dig, dig, dig until they nab their prey — if they’re lucky. They aren’t always successful. Missouri’s fastest mammal, the coyote, can run 43 miles per hour — about seven times as fast as you. But relax, it eats mostly rabbits and mice.
  • Cottontails are most active at dusk and dawn, when it’s harder for predators like hawks and coyotes to spot them. A blanket of snow gives them even more protection until dinnertime. During heavy snow, cottontails eat just about anything — including bark, twigs, and even their own poop (eww!) — to survive.
  • Over in the woods, a wild turkey must scratch through the snow and leaf litter to find seeds, nuts, and grubs. If snow gets too deep for turkeys to scratch through it, they will roost in trees to conserve energy until the snow melts.
  • Extremely soft feathers insulate the great horned owl against the cold and help it fly silently in pursuit of prey. It hunts at night, patrolling woods and fields for mice, rabbits, and other critters.
  • The white-footed mouse, which doesn’t hibernate, has ventured above the snow to search for seeds, bark, and stems to eat. The red fox in the distance hasn’t spotted it yet, but there’s a good chance the fox will catch the mouse, even if it hurries back under the snow. Foxes are successful at snowdiving for mice about seven out of 10 times. In order to prepare for winter, the white-footed mouse gathers and stores seeds and nuts in the fall.
  • A red fox can hear a mouse’s squeak 330 feet away — about the length of a football field.
  • Ever hear of a frog-sicle? The wood frog’s antifreeze-like blood allows it to freeze solid when winter weather hits, then thaw and hop away when spring returns. This is one of the few frogs that can be found in Alaska and above the Arctic Circle.


And More...

This Issue's Staff

Bonnie Chasteen
Les Fortenberry
Karen Hudson
Angie Daly Morfeld
Noppadol Paothong
Marci Porter
Mark Raithel
Laura Scheuler
Matt Seek
David Stonner
Nichole LeClair Terrill
Stephanie Thurber
Cliff White