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WINTER SURVIVAL AT WOLF ROAD PRAIRIE
Yvonne Woulfe, FPDCC
Plants and animals adjust their strategies to survive winter in our geographic area with the passage of time and climate change. The four words which explain the various ways wildlife survives the season are acclimation, adaptation, migration and hibernation.
Birds needing warmer climates for their survival migrate to their wintering grounds in the south, often after a journey of many hundreds of miles. Species which stay for the winter rely upon acclimation, adaptation and hibernation to survive.
Mouse nest at Wolf Road Prairie. Photo by Tom Lovestrand
Some wait out the winter in warm nests below the frost line, in burrows, in caves, in hollows, under rocks or in dens. Frogs, fish and turtles bury themselves in the mud at the bottom of lakes, ponds or rivers or deep under water. They hibernate by slowing down their body temperatures and functions. One true hibernator of our area is the woodchuck or ground hog. This animal, famous for predicting the coming of Spring, spends October to February fast asleep in its burrow and emerges in February to forage for the first green shoots of early wild plants.
Certain animals experience torpor by lowering body temperature to surrounding temperatures to conserve energy as a means of survival.
Skunks, raccoons and opossums stay denned up for days in extremely cold weather. Deer stay active but switch from greens to bark for their diet. Foxes and coyotes hunt mice and small mammals in the snow and stay warm by growing a thick layer of fur.
Some species must hunt for food constantly. Others survive because they cache their food in burrows. Cold bodied species go dormant.
Yvonne passed around examples of dried seeds, a model of a chipmunk den and pelts of beaver and coyote.
She shared some other fascinating facts with us.
1. Dragonfly nymphs can live dormant under water for two to three years.
2. The adult Mourning cloak butterfly overwinters under tree bark.
3. The caterpillar of the Cecropia moth spins a cocoon during the fall and overwinters in a pupal stage to emerge as an adult in spring.
4. Ladybugs hibernate in tree cavities, under logs or beneath leaf litter, often in colonies by the thousands.
5. The female housefly lies dormant over winter in attics, barns and caves until warm weather returns.
6. The Monarch butterfly migrates to Mexico.
7. An entire ant colony can hibernate below the frost line of their nest.
8. Mosquito eggs clean pollution from water.
9. Voles eat their body weight every hour.
10. Dried oak leaves regenerate depleted soil.
11. The Liverwort was the first plant to emerge from the sea.
12. It takes six years for an exhaled human breath to travel around the earth.
photo by Valerie Spale
Following the program, the group took a short hike around the 1 Aloha Lane buffer site, studied lichens on a fallen branch and watched as a pair of mallards landed on the pond and a doe wandered around the water's edge.
The former residence at 1 Aloha Lane is being used as headquarters for the Forest Preserve District of Cook County Police Department and the grounds are serving as buffer to Wolf Road Prairie.
Other photos by Dave Waycie
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