Winter Wonders of Local Wildlife

Two deer in a field

With the beginning of a new year, fitness resolutions abound, many of us are by gearing up for energizing outdoor activities. While this exciting time of year puts some pep in our step, for many wildlife species, winter means laying low or slowing down completely. It’s a challenging time but wildlife are well equipped to survive extreme cold. Here are a two strategies wildlife in the Credit River Watershed use to survive winter.

Hibernation

Hibernation is a common way wildlife survive winter months. Animals make a home, known as a hibernaculum, that protects them from winter weather and predators. The animal’s metabolism slows down, so it can “sleep away” the winter by using its body’s stored energy. When warmer temperatures arrive in spring, the animal “wakes up” and leaves its hibernaculum to find much-needed food and to breed.

Amphibians are some of the most adaptive creatures on earth. While frogs can be unassuming, they have many tactics for surviving the cold. Frogs use hibernation as a strategy to deal with extremely cold temperatures.

Frog sitting in long grass
This is a wood frog. The wood frog is also the most widely distributed frog in Canada. It can be found all the way up to the Arctic Circle.

But frogs are so small, how do they survive the extreme cold? The answer is anti-freeze! Even as ice crystals form in their body cavity, bladder and under their skin, a high concentration of glucose (a type of sugar) in the frog’s vital organs prevents freezing. A partially frozen frog will stop breathing and its heart will stop beating. When spring arrives and temperatures warm, frogs start to thaw from the inside out. Their heart and lungs resume normal function and they quickly bounce back into action.

Winter Coats

Deer are beautiful animals that we’re lucky to see year-round. During fall, they physically prepare for winter by insulating their bodies. They spend hours grazing on grasses, herbs, leaves and even agricultural crops. Deer gradually trade their summer coat for a winter one. Just like how we put on heavy-duty winter parkas, a deer’s winter coat consists of thicker, longer and darker hairs, called guard hairs, while also growing in a much thicker undercoat.

Deer standing in a forest area surrounded by snow
During the winter, deer slow down their metabolism to help store fat to keep warm.

A deer’s winter coat absorbs more sunlight, trapping heat to keep them warm during frigid temperatures. Their summer coat is much thinner and allows heat to escape so they don’t overheat. Deer also have oil-producing glands in their skin that help make their hair water repellent, which is valuable in the snow.

Knowing that many animals in the Credit River Watershed and beyond don’t hibernate, is a great reminder of the patience we must practice in winter. In an attempt to save energy, these animals may not react as quickly when crossing roads and trails. Be sure to give them their space and be mindful of the hard work they’re putting into survival – it’s no walk in the park!

Do you have any winter wildlife photographs? Share them with us on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

By Kimberley Laird, Associate, Marketing and Communications

Comments (3)

    1. Best place to see wild life is the Culham trail. I have seen deers, red fox, Beaver, racoons and a variety of birds. In winter these may be hard to spot.

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