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Nine Winter Wonders

The big day is nearly here!!! *cue the happy dancing*

Whilst we are all wishing for a white Christmas, we are going to explore just some of the ways these animals are adapted for a world in wintery white!


1. Of course we have to kick off with one of the most iconic winter animals - the polar bear! The polar bear (Ursus maritimus) has a coat made of hollow, transparent fibres that appear white. There is a myth that they appear white because they reflect snow, but the truth is, they appear white because of the density -- kind of like when you bunch up cling film. This white fur camouflages them and traps air for insulation. This coat is also greasy, which helps them shed water after swimming, further preventing heat loss.

 

2. Most birds have bare legs but the magnificent snowy owl (Bubo scandiacus) has some lovely feathery shoes and it's not just a fashion statement. These feathers are insulating the feet and legs against the bitter cold. Work it, Hedwig!

 

3. You have heard of Rudolph’s red nose but did you know the poor guy also had huge feet? Reindeer, also known as caribou (Rangifer tarandus), have large feet that act like snowshoes, spreading their weight over a wide surface area to prevent them from sinking and getting stuck in the snow. This is the same principle that helps camels not sink into the sand. Clever evolution!

 

4. The Arctic hare (Lepus arcticus) has shortened limbs and ears compared to other hare species, giving them a smaller surface area to volume ratio meaning there is less opportunity for heat to leave the body. As well as this, reducing the extremities (i.e. long ears and limbs) helps reduce the risk of losing them to frostbite.

 

5. These frosty fellas take freezing conditions to a whole new level! The wood frog (Lithobates sylvaticus) actually freezes for winter! That's right, they can survive 70% of their body being frozen solid at temperatures of -3°c for up to two weeks! How wild is that?

(NOTE: Despite the picture, please don't handle frogs or other amphibians with bare hands! Their skin is very absorbent and we often have harmful chemicals on our hands. If you must handle an amphibian, thoroughly rinse your hands without soap first and leave them slightly moist.)

 

6. These guys were domesticated for their method of keeping warm and snuggly in the snow! This is the vicuna (Vicugna vicugna) and they are the wild ancestor of the domesticated alpaca. Their thick fleece is brilliant at trapping air to insulate the body - and when they're sheared, we can use the fleece too for lovely wooly jumpers!

 

7. These hardy fish are definitely not ready to be turned into frozen fish fingers. Arctic Cod (Boreogadus saida) have antifreeze glycoproteins in their blood that prevent them from freezing solid in the bitter temperatures of the arctic ocean.

 

8. This tusky fellow, the walrus (Odobenus rosmarus), stays warm using blubber, a fat layer that can be up to 10 cm thick and can account for up to a third of their body weight during the winter. That is one heck of a Christmas jumper!

 

9. Last but not least, our ninth (and in keeper Tiana’s opinion, the smartest) animal, the pink-footed goose (Anser brachyrhynchus) who migrates from Iceland and Finland to the UK to escape the cold for the winter. Ahh, going on holiday to escape your problems... What a relatable goose.


What are your favourite and most creative ways of dealing with the cold?



 


As always, thanks for reading and remember to always keep learning! Happy holidays, everyone!


-- Charlie and Tiana

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