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What Happens in Winter?

Posted on Jan 21, 2018 by in Education

Cold Dog

People who live here know it can get pretty cold in Northeast Ohio. Luckily, we can wrap up in a cozy scarf, pull on some lined gloves and add another layer of clothing when temps start to drop. Those animals that live in cold weather year-round have adaptive features to help them through the cold winter months. But what about the animals that don’t have an extra layer of blubber or plans to fly south . . . how do they survive a deep freeze?

Some Ohio animals, like groundhogs, hibernate. According to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, groundhogs hole up much of the winter in a state where their body temperature lowers their heart rate slows significantly. When it gets really frigid other creatures such as skunks, raccoons and chipmunks will seek shelter to sleep a few days until things warm up.  Birds that don’t migrate might put on some weight and change their diets. But what happens to fish?

“Cold-blooded animals, such as fish, maintain body temperatures to that of their surroundings,” explains Greater Cleveland Aquarium curator Stephanie White. “Therefore fish move to the deepest, warmest spots within the water body during cold winter months.” Fish can enter torpor, which is shorter than a full hibernation. Torpor includes a body temperature reduction, slowed metabolism, slowed reaction times, a reduction in breathing rate and primary body functions. During the state of torpor, a fish will not actively seek prey, instead allowing food to come to them, saving their energy. With slowed activity and conserved energy, their dietary needs decrease in the winter.

And what about Fido in your backyard? How cold is too cold for our own domestic animals? While a specific answer cannot be determined across the board, consider your dog’s size, fur thickness and breed. Owners that have clothing for their animals are advised to not leave them unattended in case the sweater gets hooked on an object outdoors. PetMD suggests that once temperatures drop under 20°F, all owners should limit time outdoors and be aware that their animals could potentially develop cold-associated health problems like hypothermia.

Animals have their different adaptations to survive inclement weather, both warm and cold. Their bodies know what they can stand and will give signs of if they cannot. To learn more about our animals and their adaptations, don’t hesitate to ask any members of our curation team during your next visit!

– Morgan Wright, Marketing Assistant