Winter has arrived!
I know, I know! It was a warm and muggy 72 degrees today. But last week we got our first taste of cooler temperatures here in Houston with temperatures as low as 33 degrees at night! Yay! I happily put on my jacket, tied a scarf around my neck and went for a nice hike on our trails.
But, the forest was pretty quiet. I didn’t see any turtles on the logs, or snakes at the pond. There weren’t many insects or birds flying around. There were only a couple of squirrels scurrying around burying acorns. Where did all of our animals go? As the days get shorter and the temperatures keep dropping, we will see less of the animals scrambling about the forest and ponds. Food becomes scarce this time of year. In an effort to keep warm, save their energy, and survive the winter, many animals will go into a state of dormancy.
Here are some of the terms we learned in this week’s home school classes:
- Hibernation is a deep sleep some mammals go through to help survive the cold seasons. They become inactive for months by lowering their body temperature, slowing down their breathing and heart rate, and lowering their metabolic rate. They prepare for hibernation by building up a thick layer of fat which will provide them with energy throughout the winter.
- Brumation is a type of dormancy for reptiles. Reptiles are cold-blooded and are unable to regulate their own body temperatures. When the weather gets colder, they will become lethargic and will prefer to stay in an insulated environment. Similar to hibernating mammals, snakes can go without food for months if needed. However, they do require water! Snakes will wonder out in search of water and then quickly return to “sleep”.
- Diapause is common in insects and other invertebrates. It is a suspended stage of their development when the environmental conditions are unfavorable. Diapause isn’t just a cold weather phenomenon! It can be triggered by extreme heat, lack of water, or drought. Once the environmental conditions are favorable again, the invertebrates will continue their developmental cycles.
What can YOU do to help?
As we learned this month, winter can be hard for some animals. They need to find a warm shelter and food to help them survive. There are ways you can help! Ranger Rick has some great ideas to share to help wildlife in your own backyard. Try to do at least one of these activities in your own neighborhood!