Connecting people with nature in Ontario's Mississippi Valley

Survivor: Winter Wildlife—Outwit, Outlast, Outplay!

Survivor: Winter Wildlife—Outwit, Outlast, Outplay

Press Release

Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists February 6, 2013

Amherst1Hare

The Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists’ (MVFN) 2012-2013 public lecture series, Nature Beneath Our Feet, continues February 21 with the fifth presentation, “Survivor: Winter Wildlife—Outwit, Outlast, Outplay.” You do not need to be an expert to enjoy the presentations, just possess a curiosity or appreciation for wild nature. Cottagers, hunters, fishermen, canoeists, hikers, campers, artists and seasoned field naturalists alike will find something to interest them as we explore what lives in Lanark County and how best to protect it for future generations. Refreshments are offered at each lecture.

In this upcoming survivor episode, unlike others with which you may be familiar, the prize is simply survival—cars and money not being much use to wildlife. Further, the drama plays out in all countries experiencing cold winters like those in Canada, not just those seen on television. By contrast, the strategies of wildlife to survive the winter, as speaker Patty Summers will describe, are as seen on TV: outwit, outlast, outplay. Biologist Summers, currently with the Wild Bird Care Centre in Nepean, is a well-known natural heritage interpreter. As part of MVFN’s Environmental Education Program, Patty creates, delivers and is responsible for the success of the organization’s Young Naturalists program. Now, after giving numerous natural history presentations at elementary schools in our area, Patty will give “old naturalists” an opportunity to learn about winter wildlife survival strategies.

Winter brings cold, darkness, wind, snow, ice and, sometimes, rain. We seem to grasp at all three survival strategies: outwit (pray for global warming), outlast (stay inside), outplay (go to Florida), but how does our wildlife (and wild plants, for that matter) cope with these extreme environmental demands? What are the costs or disadvantages of adopting such strategies?

Outwitters—the ones who turn the tables and take advantage of winter conditions to remain active and comfortable—where would you look for them? Owls know where and how to find them. Can you think of some members of this group?

What about outlasters? These organisms have special adaptations for shutting down and simply tolerating winter extremes, reanimating in the spring. Many of you may have heard about amphibians and their adaptations for outlasting winter. Unlike us, they cannot control their body temperature. In ponds they can burrow into the mud so they don’t freeze, but what about those wintering on land?

Outplayers remain active despite exposure to the rigors of winter. Their physical and behavioural adaptations seem virtually unlimited—fur density increase, cooling of blood flowing to extremities to reduce heat loss, higher metabolic rates, creating food caches, and being active only during the warmest period of the day. Oh, and there is more to changing fur colour to white for camouflage—white hairs, without the pigment melanin, have more air spaces within the hairs, conferring greater insulation! Patty will add significantly to these observations, but with illustrated examples.

In which category would you put mice, eagles, sticklebacks, salamanders and yourself?

If you are not sure, ask Patty at her presentation, “Survivor: Winter Wildlife—Outwit, Outlast, Outplay,” which will be held in a nice, warm room at 7:30 pm on Thurs. Feb. 21, 2013, Almonte United Church, 106 Elgin St., Almonte. All are welcome ($5 fee for non-members). For further information please contact MVFN’s Program Chair Cathy Keddy at 613-257-3089.