Genius Ways Wild Animals Survive Cold Weather

When the cold weather sets in, some wild animals (and humans) hightail it out of town for warmer destinations. But others stay put and rely on instinct plus a little luck to get them through the winter. Here are some genius ways that wild animals survive cold weather.

They rely on adaptations

Some wild animals have pretty extraordinary adaptations that allow them to excel in cold weather. These are just a few of those animals.

  • Arctic fox: The hardy Arctic fox is equipped for its harsh environment for several reasons. Its white fur obviously allows it to blend into snow and ice (and it turns to brown or gray in the summer). Plus, it enjoys frostbite-proof feet, thanks to an intelligent vascular structure and fats in their paws, according to The Nature Conservancy.
  • Black bear: Black bears don’t pee while they’re hibernating — and that’s more than just a convenient way to stay in bed. The bears actually recycle their urine back into their bodies, The Nature Conservancy says. Instead of ridding the body of that nitrogen, they divert it back into the blood, which helps to maintain muscle and even promote healing while they slumber.
  • Wood frog: Wood frogs in Alaska pump their bodies full of a sort of natural antifreeze to stay alive in frigid temperatures, according to Science News. High levels of sugar, urea and a third unidentified chemical work together to lower the frogs’ freezing point, so they remain alive as everything around them turns to ice.
  • Ground squirrel: It can tug at your heartstrings to see an animal huddled up against the cold. But it might not bother ground squirrels as much as you think. Researchers have found these rodents have less sensitive cold-sensing neurons than non-hibernating rodents. This allows them to hunker down in the winter without getting too stressed about chilly temperatures.
  • Reindeer: In the Arctic, reindeer live in harsh light conditions that can cause temporary blindness in humans. With the ground covered in snow and the sun very low on the horizon, most of the light reflected is blue or ultraviolet (which can damage human eyes). But researchers have found reindeer eyes work very well in this UV light, allowing them to find food and avoid predators. Plus, a part of their eyes actually changes color from summer to winter to boost vision for the light of the season.

They use their surroundings

Japanese macaques in a hot springCredit: SeanPavonePhoto/Getty Images

When the cold sets in, animals often have to get a little creative in using their surroundings to stay warm. Some might nest next to the heat of buildings. Others use the superior insulating properties of snow. And a prime example of making the most of the environment? The Japanese macaques. These snow monkeys live the farthest north out of all the primates in the world, according to National Geographic. And they’ve had to learn how to withstand freezing temperatures and snowfall in Japan’s mountainous regions. So what do they do? They take a hot bath.

Researchers have documented the monkeys soaking in hot springs, especially during the winter months. And they actually measured lower stress hormones in monkeys who had taken long baths versus ones who didn’t soak at all. Plus, “females who had higher social standing were documented taking longer baths.” So it appears as though the monkeys use bath time as a winter stress-busting luxury. No word on whether any scented candles were involved.

Some animals huddle together

Emperor penguins huddle together with a chick.Credit: BernardBreton/Getty Images

Many animals know the value of getting friendly with their neighbors to share warmth and conserve energy on a chilly day. For instance, birds and squirrels often nest together in trees. And emperor penguins notoriously form huddles to survive extreme cold. Researchers have found that penguins cluster together anywhere from 12 minutes to a few hours on average to share body heat. And they’re so good at it that sometimes temperatures inside the huddle can reach almost 100 degrees Fahrenheit, even as the climate is icy cold.

Plus, penguins do take personal space into consideration — though it might not necessarily be for good manners. “They may look like they’re jam packed against each other, but they may only be touching slightly,” according to Science News. “That would prevent the feather layer from being compressed and its powers of insulation from being compromised.” And if one penguin takes even a tiny step, that often sets off a chain reaction through the huddle where everyone has to adjust their position.

They stock up

A gray squirrel sitting on a snowy branch in winter eating a nutCredit: suefeldberg/Getty Images

Squirrels may be notorious for it, but they’re definitely not the only animal who knows how to gather and store a food supply for the winter. And some have rather interesting methods. Short-tailed shrews, for example, keep their stored food very fresh — as in alive. According to National Geographic, the shrews inject insect larvae with a toxin to keep them paralyzed and then store them in their nests for a later meal.

Moles have a similar strategy. They store live earthworms in their nests by biting into the worms’ heads to cause injuries that prevent them from escaping. Some lucky worms do eventually regrow their heads and tunnel to freedom.

Some slow down

A bear looks out of its den in the snow.Credit: DieterMeyrl/Getty Images

Many animals have to slow down during the colder months to conserve energy and minimize their needs. And some enter a state of hibernation, during which physiological functions are depressed — often to extreme levels. You might think of bears as typical hibernators, though they actually go into a slightly more alert state called torpor, according to the Conservation Institute. Certain bear species will hunker down in their dens for a long nap, not eating or drinking for months. But they can be easily woken — hence why you shouldn’t poke a sleeping bear.

Furthermore, if you saw a hibernating hedgehog, you might not even think it was alive. When they hibernate, their heart rate drops by almost 90 percent, the Conservation Institute says. But they will wake up if their body temperature gets dangerously low. Likewise, when some bats hibernate, their heart rate and breathing slow so much that they might not even take a breath for up to an hour. Talk about conserving energy.

Main image credit: DmitryND/Getty Images

85 comments

hELEN h
hELEN h8 days ago

tyfs

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danii p
danii p4 months ago

tyfs

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danii p
danii p4 months ago

tyfs

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danii p
danii p4 months ago

tyfs

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Sophie A
Past Member 4 months ago

Thank you for sharing

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Yvonne T
Yvonne T4 months ago

interesting. thank you

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Helen C
Helen C4 months ago

Nature is truly amazing

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Emma L
Past Member 4 months ago

Thank you for sharing

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Jessica K
Jessica K5 months ago

Very awesome how nature and the biosphere regulate themselves and its inhabitants. Thanks.

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Catherine Z
Catherine Z5 months ago

ty

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