Winter has arrived! Over the past two years, we have looked at animals who leave the province or the ones who take long winter naps until spring. This year, our focus is on those animals that brave the challenges of our cold and snowy climate. This is the first of a four part series on our province’s most resilient animals.
This is a tough time of year for Alberta’s wild species, but fortunately mammals have thick fur to insulate against freezing temperatures. While they may be warm, often the biggest challenge is finding food – especially for those species that eat vegetation.
Large mammals, like deer and moose, need to browse through the limited selection of mostly bare branches. They try to find grass and leaves, but often end up dining on branches. These species will sometimes visit bird feeders for a change in diet. The extra-long legs of moose can give them an advantage -‘a leg up’, you could say – when snow gets deep.
Some species don’t rely on just foraging to get them through the winter, they also stash food in the fall to get them through the winter season. Perhaps the best example of this is the industrious red squirrel. Squirrels actually place mushrooms in tree branches to dry out before hiding them! Small mammals, such as voles and mice, live mostly under the snow, using a network of snow tunnels and food caches.
For many of the animals that survive on vegetation, there is also the risk that they might become another animal’s meal! Predatory mammals, such as wolves, also have to cope with the snow. The lynx is undoubtedly the prime example of a species suited to snow, with a fantastic coat and huge feet that act like snowshoes. This allows lynx to move swiftly across the snow, and catch up with their favourite food – snowshoe hares.
As you stay warm in your heated home, think about these amazing fur-bearing animals that have figured out how to survive Alberta’s harsh winter environment.