Sunday, 27 December 2009

TIme to estivate

Each Muskoka critter does something different to make it through our winters. Currently, our raccoons are hibernating. They spent the summer and fall building up a thick layer of body fat.  The ducks are gone to warmer climes. Migration being the better part of valour. Our water isn't open, but they do stay about where there is open water and some food. I remember seeing ducks all winter around th frozen waters of Manotick Mill, near Ottawa.

The raccoons went from this...skinny in June

to chubby in October...

Depending upon the temperatures, they curl up and have a wee nap to make it through the winter. Once the paw prints in the snow cease, we know they are down for the count.

Eventually, they stop attacking our bird feeders. You can see from a photo before Thanksgiving (I was still wearing my clogs!), that our visitors came by.

The physiological changes are interesting, with decreased heart rate (by 95% in some animals), and generally lowered metabolic rates.
Bears and raccoons give birth while still in their dens in winter. Snugs as bugs in their rugs.

Access to food is the issue here. The lake is frozen. There is knee-deep snow covering the land.

Black bears, for example, get 75% of their nutrition from vegetable matter, 25% comes from smaller mammals, squirrels, birds (and their eggs), insects and amphibians. For the most part their protein comes from insects. We've all seen the videos of bears who use their claws to dig out ant hills and to break open hornets' nests. They fish and climb, using their great claws to get salmon from rivers and honey from wild bees nests. This bear had just run across the road in front of us, north of Gravenhurst.

It is the insectivores who are most susceptible to winter changes in Muskoka. Some insects hide in bark, in their nests, or under the debris on the ground, making them accessible to woodpeckers, but not the less armed creatures. The woodpeckers have been attacking my bird feeders, sitting in my bucket eating away.


Diapause, is common in insects, allowing them to suspend their normal life cycles between autumn and spring. The insect remains active, but they reduce their feeding, and reproductive development is slowed or halted. Insects may also undergo behavioural changes and begin to aggregate, migrate or search for suitable overwintering sites. Monarchs migrate far to the south, but it is very species specific behaviour. On a warm day in winter the flies flit about.


Reptiles generally begin brumation in late fall (specific times depend on the species). They become lethargic with sometimes minimal drops in temperature, finding a hibernaculum: a safe spot - burrows, rock crevices, caves and leaf litter.
I loved this snapper. He must be pretty sleepy about now. In a semi-frozen lake.
The Mother of all turtles in the summer, resting on a rock. All reptiles and amphibians are ectothermic (cold-blooded) animals, with few powers of thermoregulation.  The lake temperatures never go below 4º C. in the deepest spots, and I have often seen them swimming very late in the season. 

Estivation [or Aestivation]  is another form of torpor, dormancy, or sleep. It is common in invertebrates- those that estivate are trying to escape extreme heat or drought, and is a consequential dormancy in response to other  conditions in their environment. I could go for that myself! Think of humans on their Muskoka lake front, in a summer heat wave, having docktails! Pleasant thought!

The fox continues to go by every day. I see its prints in the ice and snow on the lake.

Some call hibernation a winter torpor and estivation a summer torpor. The squirrels are quite active, with bird feeders about, they have a food source.

Of course, they have to send out  Slow Eddy to dig out the feeders. He seems quite eager to do his part. Bats are no where to be seen, being insectivores in this part of the world.

    When an animal is in torpor, its body
slows down.  Its heartbeat and temperature go down.  In human sleep, a person can wake up instantly.  With torpor, the animal doesn’t seem to see, hear, or feel things going on around it.  It is groggy and it takes a little while for it to wake up.  This is not as deep a ‘sleep’ as hibernation and can last a very short time. You can see the difference when animal control agencies are tagging hibernating bears, for example. They don't fully rouse.

Diurnal torpor is when creatures ‘deep sleep’ for only part of a day.  The part of day depends on the  animal, obviusly. Bats are sleepy in the day, hummingbirds active by day. Spring peepers, one of the most delightful wee frogs around here, peep much of the night. I love our creatures, nocturnal, diurnal, hibernating, migrating or otherwise. I love the changing lake and wildlife.

¸.·´¸.·*´¨) ¸.·*¨)
(¸.·´ (¸.·´ *Jenn

10 comments:

Yogi♪♪♪ said...

Thanks for the nature lesson and the photographs. I really liked the one of the fox.

The Lucy and Dick Show said...

It's something to see the difference in weight of the raccoons from spring to fall.

Gaelyn said...

There are a lot of interesting creatures in your neighborhood Jenn.

Judy said...

Some great photos! I really like the cat under the dock! I sent the link to my daughter for that shot, and she liked it too! Also the raccons.
Do you know what porcupine tracks look like? I might have seen some this morning.

Jenn Jilks said...

I haven't a clue about porcupines! Yes, Oliver likes to explore.

Wait'll you see the most recent creatures, Gaelyn!!!

This Is My Blog - fishing guy said...

Jenn: Thanks for sharing your nature with us. That was a really neat post.

Sallie (FullTime-Life) said...

Hi Jenn. I missed this post last weekend -- what wonderful photos (and your clogs? brave woman!) Beautiful; the animals must make it worth the snow.

Happy New Year -- Thanks for Sharing!

KaHolly said...

Very interesting, great lessons!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for one more awesome post. Keep rocking.

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