Curling up under a blanket, wrapping up warm, clutching hot chocolate – we cope with the onset of winter in a myriad of ways. But while we have the option to head inside when the cold gets too much, worldwide wildlife must endure the chill. However, this does mean that they have developed their very own set of coping mechanisms to deal with the challenges that winter throws at them.
Here are just some of the winners during the season of frost!
When life gets sub-zero for these characterful monkeys, they do what anyone in their right mind would do: head somewhere warm. Japanese macaques go one step further than your traditional log fire, however. They dive into a hot spring, lie back and soak up the luxurious temperatures.
The animals of the Arctic face some of the most challenging conditions on the planet. Freezing temperatures and scarce food are daily struggles, but both predator and prey have evolved a fantastic way to cope. When winter sets in, Arctic hares and Arctic foxes shed their brown summer coats, making way for unblemished, white winter fur. When they’re combing the landscape for food, they’re virtually invisible.
When winter arrives at places like Yellowstone National Park, the population of lumbering brown bears trade life in the woods for six months in a den. Food becomes so scarce that the bears have no choice but to fill up their fat reserves and hibernate – the animal equivalent of us curling up in front of the fire with a cosy blanket! Many females even give birth during hibernation, stirring only quietly, to nurse their cubs.
Winter usually means one thing for many of us: a trip to warmer climes. From the pristine beaches of the Bahamas to the vibrant and varied land of Morocco, there are countless destinations offering much-needed sun. This is exactly how many birds approach winter: flying off to more promising climates. Swallows take refuge in South Africa, while Arctic terns undertake an astonishing 43,000 mile round trip to Antarctica.
Monarch butterflies embark on their own epic journey during winter. They flee plummeting temperatures in the United States for the balmy climate of Mexico, in a spectacle that appears on many people’s bucket lists. You haven’t seen anything until you’ve stood among tens of thousands of fluttering butterflies!
Life beneath the waves can be cold enough during summer, so when winter sets in, you need a very special adaptation to keep out the chill. While we have our winter woollies, whales have blubber, a layer of fat that can grow up to 11 inches thick.
Like the Arctic fox and hare, the ptarmigan is a winter chameleon. But this is just the tip of its evolutionary iceberg. The ptarmigan has its very own built-in snowshoes: feathers that develop each winter, almost doubling the surface area of each foot. Not only do they make it easier to cross the snowy landscape, but they’re beautifully warm.
It’s safe to say our own winter coping mechanisms pale in comparison to those of these winning animals!