Skip to main content

It’s in your nature: Surviving the bitter cold

  • Empty

    A rhododendron’s leaves curl inward in very cold temperatures to lessen surface area to reduce water loss.

  • Empty

    A praying mantis will not survive the winter, however its eggs will. Protected inside a “Styrofoam-like” covering, the eggs will hatch in May.

  • Empty

    In early March, I lifted a flat rock in a mountain spring to reveal this hibernating pickerel frog.

  • Empty

    Heavy ice storms followed by bitter cold can stress wild turkeys which are unable to “scratch” for their food. BARRY REED/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS

Published January 19. 2019 06:22AM


With the advent of dreaded January cold temperatures, it reminds me that plants and animals are better adapted for this than we are. One precious resource for trees is water. So much that those deciduous trees in preparation for winter’s arrival shed their leaves each autumn. Leaves, through a number of processes, lose water from their surfaces. In order to preserve as much water as possible, they discard them. Evergreens, such as conifers or laurels, have waxy leaf surfaces to better “hold in the water,” thus they can retain most of them.

The “tougher” or “crazier” ones among us who enjoy winter walks or winter activities like hunting may have noticed subtle changes in rhododendrons. In 15-degree or colder temperatures, the rhododendron’s leaves curl up much like a “green hot dog” in its effort to cut down on the exposed leaf surface to the biting winds and cold. This is the plant’s adaptation to the cold.

Honeybees store away as much honey in their hives to hold them over in their very lethargic state. They “beat the cold,” existing on the energy reserves cached away in the hive. Insects, like a praying mantis, generally die soon after reproducing, and many of them don’t need to “beat the cold,” but their overwintering eggs will.

The female mantis lays hundreds of eggs in early fall, attaching them to weed stalks or low branches of shrubs. She, to protect them from the cold, surrounds the eggs with a “Styrofoam-like” covering where the eggs remain until the warmth of May arrives.

Amphibians, such as pickerel frogs or most salamanders, find a spring seep or pond bottom to hibernate. Fat reserves in their abdomen sustain them through the long, cold winter.

Some mammals hibernate, while other mammals (skunks and opossums) may “den up” during the coldest days winter has to offer. This winter dormancy is generally referred to as winter sleeping. A woodchuck hole or a space under one of our backyard buildings provides them shelter. Wild turkeys, after a deep snowfall or heavy glaze of freezing rain, can remain in a tree for a number of days relying on their larger bulk and some fat reserves. The turkeys, unlike the smaller birds, can go a few days without eating. Deep snows or heavy ice glazes may force them to feed along a forest stream.

In an earlier column I described some of the white-tailed deer’s adaptations, in particular, their hollow hair winter coat. After feeding and filling its rumen, a deer will settle into the snow to wait out the coldest nights. Deer will also choose protected hollows, out of the chilling wind, to try to conserve their fat reserves and find less wind exposure. Most often, deer will move to a southern exposure on sunny days to take advantage of any warming sunshine.

Meanwhile, we complain when the house thermostat is set at a “cold” 68 degrees. Well, bundle up on a cold midwinter day, find a nice wooded area and challenge yourself to a cold hike and get out there to better appreciate how plants and animals survive.

Test Your Outdoor Knowledge: Which grows larger, a mountain laurel or rhododendron?

Last Week’ Trivia Answer: The harrier was once called a marsh hawk.

Contact Barry Reed at




Classified Ads

Event Calendar


August 2019


Upcoming Events

Twitter Feed