Winter in the Rocky Mountains is unforgiving and tough with freezing temperatures, snow, ice, and cold winds. All animals, including people, know that winter is coming and start to get ready for it. Preparing for winter can mean different things to different animals. An animal chooses whatever strategy gives it the best chance at survival. Here is some more information about the three main strategies animals choose from to survive winter.
Animals Survive Winter – Strategy 1 – Migration
The first main strategy that many animals choose is to simply leave and go elsewhere. These animals look to spend the winter in places that are warmer and have more food available.
Migration does not necessarily mean that animals move huge distances. There is a whole range of degrees of migration that animals undertake. Some animals migrate far distances, such as caribou that travel thousands of miles, and others like moose only move lower to the valley bottoms where the snow is not as bad.
Animals Survive Winter – Strategy 2 – Hibernation
The second strategy animals choose is to simply find a warm spot underground, in a cave, or a log and sleep or rest all winter until it is warmer. Some animals truly hibernate or sleep all winter long – a chipmunk hibernates all winter long.
Hibernation – is a long period of deep sleep and inactivity. During this time breathing slows, heart rate slows down, and body temperature gets lower.
Some animals, including bears, do not truly hibernate, but go into a deep sleep called torpor. The difference between torpor and hibernation is that in torpor the animal can wake up quickly if it hears a loud noise or is moved. In hibernation, the animal can not wake up quickly. Also, in hibernation the animal’s body temperature drops to the same temperature as the surrounding, but in torpor the body temperature remains high.
Other animals stay in their den or a safe place all winter where they sleep a lot and eat the food they have stored for winter – a squirrel sleeps and snacks, but on warmer days will come outside to get the food it stored in the fall.
Animals Survive Winter Strategy 3 – Adaptation
Many animals stay in the same areas that they live all year, but they adapt to the winter. This may mean that they grow a thick winter coat, change the kind of food they eat, or change the color of their fur. For example, a red fox changes it’s diet.
A deer and mountain goat adapt to winter by growing thick winter coats to keep them warm.
Or a snowshoe hare adapts by changing the color of its fur from brown in the summer to white in the winter.