Life Outdoors at the Woods
By Kelley Lang, Education Manager
Here at the Woods winter brings unique changes to our surroundings that can be scenic and refreshing. The quiet dark trees blanketed in layers of snow, slowly moving water under the ice on Walnut Creek, the pops of color that overwintering birds bring – all of these things make winter an enjoyable time of year for outdoor exploration. But the same changes that transform the woods also bring unique challenges to the wildlife native to our region. Not only do plants and animals need to contend with colder temperatures, but they must also find ways to deal with less sunlight and fewer daylight hours, less liquid water available for drinking, and less available food sources to fuel their bodies for warmth and movement.
In response the challenges that winter brings to the Woods, animals have come up with some pretty impressive survival strategies:
Some use anti- freeze. Wood frogs, as well as some other species of frogs, overwinter in a blanket of leaves, near the surface of the soil. Because they do not burrow deeply, these frogs undergo multiple freeze-thaw cycles throughout the winter. As temperatures drop, the wood frog produces lots of glucose. This sugary substance protects the cells in the frog’s body from damage as the water in its body freezes. This survival strategy is like adding anti-freeze to your gas tank in the wintertime.
Migrate. For animals that dine on foods that are abundant during the summer, but are scarce in the winter, migrating to a warmer location is the best way to survive. Monarch butterflies may travel over 3,000 miles to spend the winter in southwestern Mexico. Three species of bats native to PA also migrate in the fall since insects, their main food source, are not available in winter and early spring.
Huddle up. Some species of mammals survive winter by huddling together to conserve energy while staying warm. During winter when food is sparse, flying squirrels will share nest-lined cavities of trees.
Go low, go slow. Have you ever wondered how fish survive in cold winter weather, or where they go when lakes and ponds freeze over? Most fish slow down and “rest” near the bottom during cold winter months. Because warm water sinks in very cold freshwater, fish in these water bodies often gather in groups near the bottom.
Store it up. Many species of mammal store up food supplies to help them to get through months of scarcity. Warm-blooded animals will put on extra fat layer as an energy reserve. Black bears can increase their body weight by 40% in preparation for winter.
Tough it out. The most common way that wildlife in PA cope with the difficulties of winter is to stay active. Deer, rabbits, squirrels, and foxes are among the species who you might spot at the Woods during the winter months.
For us humans, it may be tempting to migrate to a warmer place to escape the winter cold, or we might wish we could just sleep the winter months away, but we hope that you choose to stay active as your winter survival strategy. There are fun and interesting opportunities to get out of the house, learn and explore at Asbury Woods all winter long.