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Utah News

Winter In The Wild: How Animals Prepare

Red Fox in snow; Red Foxes are a Utah species that stays active during the winter. They hunt small animals that dwell in subnivean tunnels. According to Michelle Segars, a naturalist educator for Stokes Nature Center, you might just see this in action.
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Michelle Segars said foxes stay active and hunt the subnivean tunnels. "If you're lucky enough to see a fox, you might see him do this leaping movement and they dive into the snow, and you'll just see their tail sticking out if it's a deep snowdrift."

October brought a record-breaking cold streak to Utah. This led to many Utahns digging out parkas and winter clothes and blankets. And while the wildlife in the state doesn’t have the level of shelter humans do, they prepare in a similar way, according to Michelle Sagers, a naturalist educator with Stokes Nature Center in Logan Canyon.

“There's different methods for coping with the cold. So a lot of them, they're going to be building up as much fat as they can, eating a lot," Sagers said. "Also, their winter coats. In the fall they're going to start growing a thicker layer to keep them warm.”

Sagers said many people expect wildlife to undergo some form of hibernation, relying on those fat preserves to get them through the winter. But not a lot of people know about the routines of smaller creatures, like mice and moles.

“They will live in what's called subnivean tunnels. So it's a layer in between the ground and the snowpack, and that actually will stay pretty warm," She said. "It'll stay right about 32 degrees even when temperatures plunge to sub-zero."

Unlike true hibernators, Sagers said they remain active throughout the winter.

"And sometimes you might see little tracks coming out of those to the tree trunks and things," she said. "So they're, they're hiding out under there, which I think is just this kind of its own mysterious little world underneath the snow.”

Animals like foxes are masters of these tunnels, according to Sagers. She said some animals do more than others, but, in the end, “it's all about just finding ways to cope with the cold and find enough food to survive.”

For more information on how some wildlife prepares for winter, visit the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources' website.