We humans have come up with some ingenious ways of dealing with the cold, often by changing our surroundings to suit us rather than adapting to the environment as most other animals do. While we have borrowed many ideas from nature, we have gone one step farther in many cases.
We insulate our homes, just like squirrels do their nests, but we also heat them artificially. Place thermometers both inside and out to see what a difference this makes.
We also dress for the weather, since we have lost much of the fur that once covered our bodies, in order to be active year-round. Think of the birds fluffing up their down feathers when you slip on your down jacket!
Step outside for a minute on a chilly day with little on, and then bundle up and go back outside. You’re more comfortable, aren’t you? You’ll also notice that you don’t feel quite as cold if you are wearing a hat. It’s a fact that you lose a lot of body heat right out the top of your head! So keep it covered on a cold day. If you dress in layers, you can add or shed clothing as the temperature climbs or dips.
The Ways Animals Keep Warm
You may wonder how animals stay warm without the benefits of clothing and heated homes. Animals have some creative solutions for keeping warm, many of which people have borrowed!
Many animals migrate to warmer areas (just as older people may choose to spend the winter in Florida!). Others hibernate or are simply dormant, having created insulated havens much like your own house.
Some animals remain active even in very cold regions, and those are the ones you can look for during winter. Watch how the birds at your feeder fluff up their feathers, trapping body heat in their soft downy feathers. Stroke the thickened fur of a dog or horse, and you’ll see these animals also “wear more clothing” in winter! And if you’ve found evidence of mice in your house, you can see how some creatures share the shelters we have built for ourselves, as well.
How Plants Withstand Cold
Just like animals, plants have ways to deal with the cold and frozen precipitation that envelop them during the frigid Northern Wisconsin winter months.
A lot of them may look dead, but only the annual plants have actually died. These are the low-growing plants that you can pull up easily, roots and all. They die after producing and scattering their seeds. Some plants take two years before their seeds mature, and these are known as biennials.
Many plants live for more than two years. These are the perennials. Trees are the most visible members of this group. Because little moisture is available to them (it’s frozen!), these plants halt their growth, and shed the leaves that normally transpire a lot of water. At least the broad-leaved trees and bushes do this. Evergreens can keep their leaves (or needles as we call them), because they have a protective waxy coating. It’s a bit like the hand lotion you use to protect your hands in winter!
Some plants are sensitive to changes in temperature. Have you ever noticed how rhododendron leaves curl up tightly (they almost look like cigars!) when it’s very cold outside? They relax and unfurl when it’s warmer.
[Image: Courtesy of Mike Crowley; available for sale at his website Life in the Northwoods]