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Monday, January 28, 2013

Wildlife in Winter

The winter weather took a minor break for Sunday's Wildlife in Winter Series. The shinning sun kept us slightly warm while walking through Bucktoe Creek Preserve's meadows and forests in search of wildlife habitats.

Hibernation was the topic of focus during part I of the series, and is a unique strategy that many different types of species (insects included) have adopted. During this process, animals increase their eating in the fall to store the excess fat over the winter. In order to store this food and energy for the entire winter, they must make significant changes to their metabolism by lowering their body temperature and decreasing their heart rate and breathing rate.

Most of Pennsylvania's wildlife residents act as partial hibernators; often sleeping for days/weeks at a time, then foraging around the area for a few days to restock and refuel. The groundhog is one of the few that will remain in hibernation mode throughout the winter.

While out for a walk last Thursday morning, I stumbled upon an open groundhog den, which I later showed to the group on Sunday. However, between Thursday and Sunday, someone had decided to evacuate or barricade themselves in the den. Perhaps, my footsteps around the hole on Thursday morning prompted a warning to close the entrance; or, the den was empty and someone new decided to move in and rearrange things.

Although foxes don't hibernate, we came across a cool fox den with three separate entrances all covered up with leaves and debris. During part II of the series, we will focus on animals that remain active during the winter.

Investigating the Red Fox Den

Certain insects also have their own type of hibernation during the winter: lay eggs and die. Praying Mantis (Mantis religiosa) lay noticeably large egg cases on twigs, sticks and posts over the winter. Two species present at Bucktoe Creek Preserve are the Carolina Mantid (Stagmomantis carolina) and European Mantid (Mantis religiosa), which are differentiated by the shape of their egg case. Carolina's are elongated and rectangular, and often times are found fully attached to the post, twig or stick. Europeans on the other hand take on a circular shape and are only attached at the tips. The cases contain 100-200 eggs, all of which hatch according to the length of warm weather. Sometimes it can take 8 weeks of warm weather for the eggs to hatch.

Checking out the Carolina Praying Mantis

Two unknown dens that were dug out in a pile of wood clippings were also discovered. Both dens were about 100 yards apart, the holes were facing opposite directions, and each one was the same size and length. Both were too large for a vole or field mouse, and too shallow for a fox or groundhog. The general consensus was ... someone was out foraging and couldn't make it back to their den due to inclement weather and needed a one-night stay. Perhaps they dug two holes facing different ways because of the direction of the wind/rain/snow entering the hole. A few other theories were ruled out, but comment below if you would like to add your thoughts!

Unknown Den

Stay tuned for part II: camouflage on February 16th and part III: migration on March 9th! Click here to sign up! 

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