Wildlife cope with cold by burrowing under snow

A wildlife biologist says most wild animals should be able to weather the current cold snap.

Nature's 'perfect insulator' protects animals from bone-chilling temperatures

A wildlife expert says animals should be OK through this cold snap because they are used to Thunder Bay's harsh winters.

A wildlife biologist says most wild animals should be able to weather the current cold snap.

Lakehead University biology instructor Don Barnes said the thick snow cover is an especially big help to small mammals such as mice and voles.

"They just scoot underneath the snow and the snow is a perfect insulator,” he said.

“You can have –40 C out there and, when you get down to the ground temperature at the bottom, the temperature is barely zero. And the nice thing about the snow is that, right at the bottom, because you've got heat coming from the ground, a lot of the plants are still viable. They're not desiccated at all."

Don Barnes is a wildlife biologist and a trapper. He's an instructor in the dept. of biology at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay. (Supplied)

Barnes said deer may suffer more than other animals in the cold, because they have difficulty moving through the snow — and that gives wolves the advantage.

Whitetail deer, "really have a rough time when the snow starts getting about two feet" in depth, he said. But they will co-operate with each other, tramping down a trail in the snow and using it collectively.

Hardy winter animals that do well in snow include snowshoe hare and lynx.

As for birds, Barnes said most of the little ones "fluff up their feathers and they're quite happy. Other birds like the grouse … have a rough time … they'll burrow under the snow, and they'll stay there." 

Barnes noted that winter is always a challenging time for animals, and this winter is not that unusual.

"It's just that we've been spoiled rotten,” he said. “The last few winters have been really mild."

For those who have the urge to help animals by feeding them, Barnes said it's probably not a good idea.

"You can help animals too much,” he said. “They become reliant on these things and, if you don't keep it up, they're in trouble.”


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