The Fattening Before the Storm

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All of us who spend time outside are witnessing the yearly fattening before the storm that is occurring all around us.  This is a very important time for animals, domestic or wild.  As the summer fades and the plants begin the release of their fall bounty, all animals are preparing their bodies for the difficulties of winter.  Because of these hardships, different animals have adapted very distinct strategies to deal with the seasonal change.

Some, such as the birds, simply get up and get out, heading south to where there are both abundant and varied food choices and more accessible breeding grounds.  This particular strategy works well for our avian friends but at a real cost as many thousands of birds are killed during the migration.  This situation has been exacerbated by mankind and instances abound of flocks getting off route because of manmade structures emitting signals that impede their ability to properly navigate.

Next there are the animals that are going to fatten up as much as they possibly can, slow their bodies down, and take a long nap.  We know this as hibernation and it is also the reason that our garbage cans and bird feeders are relatively safe because our bear population is hunkered down in their winter slumber.  During the last phase of their preparations for hibernation known as hyperphagia, bears will attempt to consume between 15,000 and 20,000 calories each day in order to sustain them over the full 5 months of deep winter.

Then there are the animals that are going to hide enough food to get them through the winter.  Squirrels and some birds make caches of food that can be accessed during lean times.  This is one of the ways that our great forests regenerate as the rodents forget where some of the nuts were planted.  Scientist actually estimate that as many as 25% of all tree nuts cached by squirrels are never recovered.  Even the insects and invertebrates have adapted to survive the winter doldrums.  Many insects will overwinter in the developing stages of their life-cycle prior to metamorphosing when conditions are more favorable.  Adult insects usually congregate in various microclimates in order to ride out the cold as a group.  A few insects have developed the ability to decrease the amount of water in their system and build up glycerol in its body which acts as a biological anti-freeze.

Lastly there are the organisms that just tough it out of the winter.  The deer will forage on the trees and bark, the voles and mice will make tunnels in the leftover grass and snow while being vigilant for hawks or foxes.  Even the earthworms will stick around and if there is enough snow pack on the ground you can find them incorporating manure patties into the soil all through the winter months. So what do all these strategies mean for you?  Well I recommend that you work in a mixture of all the different strategies into your winter regimen.  I plan to fatten up, nap more, head south at some point for a quick dip, play under the snow, and tough it out and get ready for the grass to return.  Winter isn’t all that bad if you have a plan.

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