So winter has come and many of you in the UK may be experiencing the frost and snow. Now is a great time to observe the seasonal changes, see its’ many differences and the main one to notice is that it’s a lot emptier. The trees are bare now and there is a distinct lack of wildlife to be seen. This leads to a very important question, where did all the wildlife go? or perhaps more appropriately, how do animals survive the winter?
We’ve been enjoying taking the kids out to our local nature spot and their observations have provided some good opportunities to learn about the different methods animals employ to survive winter. The two main aspects which are faced by animals is that, with the plants frozen there is little food left to forage over winter and with the temperature so cold they need to keep from freezing to death over night. In this article we will cover the animals we feel are most common for kids to know and the different methods they employ to survive.
Hibernation is a very important method of surviving winter, especially for animals that are cold blooded such as amphibians and reptiles. As the weather gets colder, the animals find a place to hide, protected from the wind and frost and allow their metabolism, that’s the rate their body digests food, to slow down. As well as their metabolism, their heart rate slows and their body temperature also drops. The animals enter a deep state of sleep in their hiding place until the weather gets warmer which wakes them up and they come out of hiding in search of food.
Frogs and newts
Frogs and newts like to hide in the earth or under things near their usual water source. Putting pieces of wood next to a pond makes a nice place for them to hide under for the winter.
Slow worms and snakes
Slow worms and snakes like to stay hidden in their little homes under rocks or wood most of the year. If you know a place where they like to hide in the summer out in the fields, chances are high they will be hiding there this winter.
Hedgehogs do prefer to hibernate but will venture outside to explore when the weather is mild enough. Unfortunately hedgehogs are at risk due to their exploitative nature, a mild winter that suddenly turns cold can mean some hedgehogs sadly do not survive the winter.
Honey bees and bumble bees
Honey bees and bumble bees don’t really hibernate in that they remain active, however they do hide in their nests, huddle together for warmth and drink all the honey they made throughout the year.
Some animals have learned to leave the country when the weather becomes too cold. Those who are unable to make a home to hibernate in travel south to where the weather is warmer. They stay in the south until the weather gets too hot for them and then they return back to the north to our cooler climate. Migrating south not only means they avoid the cold weather but they can also find food in the other countries that they visit because little food is available for them to eat here in winter. The food sources can be varied from place to place and these different types of food can be an important part of their diet every year.
Swallows and swifts
Swallows and swifts are two very recognisable birds which, being dependant on insects as food, must travel back south for the winter, sometimes all the way down to Africa.
Painted lady butterflies
Painted lady butterflies must also fly south and have been seen as far down as Africa. That’s an impressive journey for such a little pair of wings. They manage this by flying very high and catching air currents to help them.
Some animals will put on a “winter coat” which is additional feathers or fur to help keep them warm in the cold and they will forage what ever is still available to eat. Although their metabolism is still much slower than usual and they aren’t as active you may still see them venturing outside in the winter time.
Foxes have nice warm dens under ground where families huddle together at night. A scavenger is an animals that will pretty much try to eat anything. With their nice fluffy coats they will brave the cold and try to eat whatever they find. Usually they prefer to venture out at night to prevent being seen but are more likely to be seen in the day in winter as the nights can get very cold.
Squirrels also have nice fluffy coats and remain quite active in the winter. Before the weather became too cold they hid food and over the winter will go digging that food back up to eat.
The robin has a winter plume (extra feathers) and while their usual diet is insects and other creepy crawlies, during the winter they eat the berries and fruit left of trees and bushes to see them through the winter.
Some animals simply don’t plan to survive the winter at all, every winter there is all likelihood that they will die. However they often have eggs hidden away waiting for the warmer weather to come before they hatch in the Spring.
Slugs and snails
Technically slugs and snails are hibernators but a cold winter will kill them. Being mostly water and unable to keep warm they freeze quite easily. Snails will seal themselves off in their shells for the winter while slugs will remain active under ground as long as the temperature is above 5C. If they die, the eggs that they keep hidden and safe will survive and hatch in spring and the population level is soon restored.
Grasshoppers and crickets
Grasshoppers and crickets will only survive a very mild winter, if there is a heavy frost they will very likely die. But the eggs they hid in the soil will emerge the following spring as nymphs to repeat the cycle again. They could survive several years if it weren’t for the cold winters.
Dragonflies also die over the winter but keep their eggs hidden under water. Once they hatch in the spring they will eat things like mosquito larvae in the water before emerging from the water to fly around.
We hope that you enjoyed this post and learning about what animals do in winter to survive. Please share with us on social media all you wintry adventures.