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We take a look at two animals and an insect for clues to how life in the wild makes it through a long, cold winter in Northern Michigan. Surviving  the bitter cold of Michigan winters requires pluck, resistance—and strategy, strategy, strategy.
Of all the resident animals suited to survive the long, unforgiving winters in the North, we humans are the most pathetically ill-equipped. In the often birdless silence of winter, you may be surprised to see that the scrappy ruffed grouse is out, around, and living it up. Somewhere beneath that same snowdrift, tunneling to the left of our roosting grouse friend, lurks one of the most well-adapted predators winter has to offer: the short-tailed weasel. You may know them by their other name—ermine, as in the cape-trimming fur of choice among royalty.
These animals don’t count on stored fat or winter hunting to carry them through a long winter, though. When winter loosens its grip a little, a spot of sunlit snow lures the springtail out from its lair in the leaf litter at the base of trees. Most insects migrate or hide out in winter, when it’s too cold for their bodies to really  function. These enormous gatherings are easy enough for the amateur naturalist to spot—just look for a sunny area near the base of a tree, and you may see quite the swarm. In the Florida residential community of “The Villages” a sinkhole opened up that was over twenty-five feet across and fifty feet deep.
A raging fire in Valparaiso, Chile destroyed nearly 500 homes, killed 11 people, and forced over 10,000 people to evacuate the area.
Sign up for Confessions of a Prepper newsletter to gain access to the latest survivalist news, tips, and tricks. Whether it’s plummeting into snowbanks, hiding animal carcasses in hollow logs, or snacking on fungal spores at the snow’s surface, these three creatures manage to whoop it up in winter—probably in your own backyard.
They’re at their most relaxed and active when the snow falls, taking advantage of a landscape offering fewer predators and less competition for food. Their adaptation begins with a change in diet and boost in metabolism (a winter bonus point, considering most animals’ metabolisms drop  20–80 percent).


Grouse keep warm with a curious bedtime ritual: they fly straight up into the air, scope out an open space full of drifts and free of obstacles, and dive bomb into the snow.
Much of the year, northern weasels are clothed in plain brown fur, but in winter their coats turn brilliant white, with only the black tip of their tail to give them away.
Beneath that camouflage, their narrow, flexible bodies are efficient and well-designed machines, suited for following prey into their tiny dens and tunnels beneath the snow.
Enter Plan C: When things are flush, weasels hide their prey carcasses  for future consumption in hollow trees, logs, even the victim’s own den. There, on the snow’s surface, the tiny 2 mm-long animals feed on a veritable buffet of algae, fungal spores, and bacteria. That’s because the water crystal formations have punctured and destroyed the cellular structure of the tissue.
Food is plentiful, and the usual predators like spiders, mites and crickets are snoozing through the season. Even though we know winter comes every year people suffer from food shortages, power outages, and hypothermia. Glenn Dudderar, associate professor of Fisheries and Wildlife Biology at Michigan State University,  explains that the change in coloration is regulated by daylight, not temperature.
Such a predator needs to keep fueled, so as winter approaches weasels whip into hyperdrive and eat like crazy. Springtails are active year-round, but in winter they party in huge hoards on the snow’s surface.
For one, they are darker than related species, an adaptation that helps them absorb solar radiation. Another perk is the make-up of their blood chemistry.
Snider reveals the springtails’ secret: Their blood contains glycerol, which prevents crystal formation by acting like antifreeze.
If we step outside to the snowdrift, perhaps we can spy on some of winter’s chosen creatures. These horny growths act like snow tires, helping the birds navigate the icy crust that forms on the snow and branches. With all this exposure, a bird needs to watch heat loss.


From their initial landing, they’ll wriggle another 10 to 20 feet in order to get safely away from the telltale entry point.
The excess food becomes brown fat, a special type that produces more energy than regular fat when metabolized. Because they lack the kind of internal furnace that other animals have, a typical insect’s blood would begin to form ice crystals as the temperature dropped— “and then you’ve got a dead duck on your hands,” explains Dr.
The gland then secretes hormones that cause a chain reaction until the appropriate chemical cocktail has been mixed. Grouse have to stoke that inner furnace—to stay active in 20?F, they eat 20 percent of their body weight each day, the human equivalent of starting off your day with eight boxes of cereal and ending it with 20 pounds of lasagna. These ersatz leg warmers are aided by a bird trick called rete mirabilis, or countercurrent circulation, in their feet and legs. In a winter with little snow, animals with adaptive coloration get clobbered.” A white weasel in brown woods is a conspicuous predator, not to mention an easy target itself for owls and goshawks.
Females delay implantation of their embryos, which hover in a kind of stasis until spring, when the mother will have more energy to nurture growing babies.
This means the arterial blood is on the inside of the leg where it will lose less heat, and the cooler venus blood is on the outside, so feet and legs can drop in temperature without compromising the overall body temperature as much.
Years where snowfall is scant find grouse plopping themselves into shallow drifts like ostriches with their heads in the sand. And when it comes time to choose between heading off into the snow to hunt or conserving energy, the weasel and most other animals will choose to conserve, curl up, and wait it out. Layers of ice or hidden objects beneath the snow can result in broken necks or (gulp) impalement.
And collapsed burrows in shallow drifts are a beacon to predators, a broad hint that the something below is cluelessly enjoying a long winter’s nap.



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