What’s It Like to Be a Critter in the Cold?

How cold is it?
How cold is it?

Animals have some astonishing adaptations that help them get through winter. Our new trail cam, placed near a deceased deer in our park has shown us some incredible photos of animals surviving the harshness of our South Dakota winters.

The raccoon missing a tail is one of the carcass’ regular visitors. We see him at 4 degrees fahrenheit and -4 degrees. He’s tough. Does his missing tail have anything to do with the cold? It could!

It’s 14 degrees Fahrenheit when this buck comes to visit .

The State of Maine, Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Department has a fantastic article about how deer stay warm in winter.

    •  Northern deer have larger body size than deer further south. This is true of all mammals, in that body size increases as you progress northward. Large body size conserves energy better because of a lower surface to mass ratio.
    • Deer shed their hair coat in the spring and fall. The red summer hair has solid shafts and lacks an undercoat, but the gray-brown winter coat has hollow hair shafts and a dense, wool-like under fur, providing effective insulation.
    • Deer have special muscles that can adjust the angle of their hair shafts to obtain maximum insulation.
    • During the fall, deer accumulate and store body fat under their skin and around internal organs. This serves both as insulation and energy reserve for the rigors of the winter ahead.
The fox visits when it's -12 degrees F.
The fox visits when it’s -12 degrees F.

It’s a biting -12 degrees F. when the fox comes to visit. He’s mostly interested in eating to keep his body fat. New Hampshire’s Fish and Game department published a story about fox in winter, saying that they stay warm by growing a “long winter coat. An adult fox  rarely retreats to a den during the winter, but will instead curl into a ball  in the open, using its bushy tail to wrap around its nose and footpads. Many times, they can be found completely  blanketed in snow.”Adapting to cold is vital for animals in South Dakota. We’ll keep updating you on what we learn from our trail cam. You can also follow it on our Facebook page.