Winter time is not ‘down time’ for nature study – there’s plenty happening in the natural world. Here’s questions you should be able to answer:
Why does winter happen?
The Earth’s axis is tilted at an angle of 23.5 degrees. The varying amounts of sunlight around the Earth during the year, creates the seasons. Winter in the northern hemisphere happens when the north pole is tilted away from the sun and the sunlight is at a shallow angle because the sun is lower in the sky. Long nights and short days prevent the Earth from warming up.
When is the winter solstice, and what is it?
Two solstices and two equinoxes divide the seasons. The winter solstice usually happens on December 21st or 22. The winter solstice is the moment when the north pole is farthest from the sun. The day of the winter solstice is the shortest day and the longest night of the year.
What is hibernation? Why do Animals Hibernate? What animals hibernate in your area?
Hibernation is a state of lower body temperature, slower breathing, and/or lower metabolic rate animals experience to conserve energy when food supplies are limited. Hibernation may last days, weeks, or months. Before entering hibernation most animals eat a large amount of food and store energy in fat deposits to survive the winter.
The “true hibernators” like groundhogs, bears and bats hibernate in dens, caves or other dwelling places. Raccoons, skunks, opossums and chipmunks do emerge on warmer days to search for food but will return to their lengthy slumber quickly. Squirrels hibernate partially and are more active than the true hibernators.
Snails, snakes, toads, frogs, turtles and salamanders survive the winter by slowing or shutting down most of their bodily functions. Some bury themselves in mud or under leaf litter below the frost line. Snakes curl up in a ball just like the warm blooded animals
How do plants survive the winter?
Like animals, some plants survive through the winter in resting stages. Annuals grow, reproduce and die each year. The seeds of annual plants survive to germinate and grow the following spring.
Perennials survive by means of tubers, tap roots and bulbs storing food reserves underground. In spring these food reserves are used to grow new leaves and shoots above ground.
Trees adapt in several ways to survive cold, dry conditions in winter. Deciduous trees set buds for the next year during the summer and drop their leaves in the fall. Conifers (evergreens) retain needles for two to three years before shedding them. Needles have a thick, waxy coating that reduces water loss. Needles produce food for the tree all year long.
Tracking animals in the snow is great fun. Here some excellent instructions for making track casts in the snow.