Wednesday, November 5, 2008

November Phendogy

Nature Watch
November 5, 2008

By Susan Benson,
CNHM Director of Education

As our lake effect snow falls this Monday morning, my bike is put away for the season. I went for a walk, thinking about how all the northwoods have prepared for the coming winter. There are some interesting things that occur in the animal world.

Ruffed grouse grow fringes on their toes in the winter that act like natural snowshoes. These feathery feet do not exist in the summer or in regions without snow. These “snowshoes” don’t really have flotation devices, though, so sometimes the grouse, who like to walk, will end up kind of tunneling their feet through the snow. Like the weasel, the ruffed grouse uses the snow for warmth by spending nights and parts of the day after having dived down into the snow.

Gray squirrels eat about 40 pounds of acorns each winter. They grow longer coats during the winter, and sometimes grow white ear tufts in winter. It is believed that these ear patches look like small patches of snow, while the remaining coloration matches tree bark better. Motionless, this animal would be more difficult to detect by their predators. Squirrels that live in places that don't get accumulating snow don't grow the white ear tufts.

Imagine carrying your house around with you everywhere you go. Snails do, of course. In the winter, snails and slugs burrow into moist marsh soil for the winter, living off the fat in their bodies. Many snails secrete lime that creates a protective door over their openings.

Thirteen-lined ground squirrels, animals we often call gophers, hibernate all winter long. They layer on a coat of fat in the fall, and then settle into their underground burrows from October through March. When hibernating, their breathing rate decreases from 100-200 breaths per minute to one breath every five minutes. Their body temperature cools to almost that of the surrounding air temperature.

Nature Watch is brought to you by the Cable Natural History Museum. For 40 years, the Museum has served as a guide and mentor to generations of visitors and residents interested in learning to better appreciate and care for the extraordinary natural resources of the region. The Museum invites you to visit its facility in Cable at 13470 County Highway M or on the web at to learn more about exhibits and programs.

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