How New Jersey’s wildlife is surviving the frigid weather
It’s been so cold in Jersey over the past couple of weeks that even going from your house to your car with a winter coat, hat and gloves on is an unpleasant experience.
It turns out we’re not the only ones struggling to deal with these freezing conditions.
According to Catherine Tredick, a professor of environmental science at Stockton University, many different types of animals that call the Garden State home are able to survive these harsh conditions by employing a variety of strategies.
She said some animals, like deer, will grow a thicker winter coat to help them stay warm, and “a lot of the small mammals and things like that will tend to burrow underground. Some bat species hibernate. Amphibians and reptiles tend to be hibernators.”
She noted black bears in Jersey don’t technically hibernate, “but they go into what we call a state of torpor." In other words, "they reduce their body temperature and their heart rate and their respiratory rates and kind of just hunker down.”
“When the weather is extreme they may not be comfortable, but they do a good job in surviving cold snaps,” she said.
Tredick said sometimes, surviving a really cold winter depends on how much an animal was eating in the summer and fall.
“Those who have a bit of extra weight or body fat on them are going to do a little bit better," she said.
Another cold-weather strategy is for animals to move around less than normal.
“They stay put and find the warmest spot that they can and just hunker down until it gets a bit warmer," she said.
She said smaller animals may also huddle in groups to stay warm.
Scott Barnes, New Jersey Audubon’s program director for All Things Birds, pointed out when it gets really cold, “birds often look a little bit bigger than they do otherwise, and in part that’s because they are kind of puffing all their feathers out and they’re trapping that warm air underneath their feathers.”
“They do have to eat more — obviously they have to eat more calories to stay warm," he said.
He said during extreme cold snaps, birds may flock to birdfeeders to get additional nutrients.
He noted ducks have two types of feathers to fend off the cold. Their outer oily layer is waterproof and protects them against wind, “and then they’ve got the down feathers kind of against the skin, that are really the warm layers."
Barnes pointed out geese ducks and seagulls have their feet in freezing water during the winter, but they’re able to stay warm because “there’s a massive system of blood vessels that kind of pumps a lot of blood through their feet and that keeps their feet warm.”
“Evolution is a pretty amazing thing, and all these species have adapted to their environment, and are able to get through even some really, really harsh cold spells,” Tredick said.
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You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com.