Michigan animals use snow to help survive winter

Help youth explore and discover hidden animals snug in the snow this winter.

Snow serves as a vital winter habitat for many Michigan animals. They depend on it for shelter from the elements and predators as well as for finding food. You can help youth learn about how Michigan animals use snow for survival by encouraging them to write down a list of animals that spend time in or under snow. Then, ask them how they know this; answers may be as simple as seeing with their own eyes, or it may require more discussion and exploration.

Here are some common Michigan animals youth may have written down on their list along with how the snow helps them survive winters in Michigan:

  • Snowshoe hares grow a white coat in preparation for winter to help conceal themselves from predators. By standing atop the snow, the hare can also reach buds and other food that are farther from the ground. Also, the hare’s larger feet enable it to stay on top of snow.
  • Ermine or weasels also grow a white coat, which helps conceal it from predators and its prey. The ermine uses snow to find food by tunneling through it in search of voles, shrews and mice.
  • White-footed mice use snow for shelter from the cold and a place to hide seeds for dinner.
  • Shrews burrow in snow for protection from the cold.
  • Moles use snow as protection from the cold. Snow also helps keep the soil from freezing so food sources such as earthworms and insect larvae are available.
  • Red squirrels use snow for shelter and a place to store seeds. Red squirrels can tunnel under and through snow.
  • Ruffed grouses or partridges can dive into snow and use it as protection from the cold.
  • Meadow voles use snow as shelter from the cold. They can also store seeds under it.

Look around your neighborhood for sights and signs of winter activity. Tiny tracks leading into a bird house could be showing you the winter home of a mouse or red squirrel. Seeds in a hole in a tree could be the winter stash for mice or squirrels. Winter buds nipped off bushes of bark eaten from the edges of branches near the ground are likely evidence of a snowshoe hare. Tiny tunnels in a snowbank could show the winter superhighway used by mice, voles, shrews or even red squirrels to travel unseen across the winter landscape. These tiny tunnels could also be used by a tiny winter hunter, the ermine. Hollowed out spaces under pine trees are likely hiding places for partridges.

Winter is host to much hidden animal activity. Help youth explore and discover the treasures hidden snug in the snow this winter.

For more ways to share science with youth in your life, please explore the Michigan State University Extension Science and Technology website. For more information about 4-H learning opportunities and other 4-H programs, contact your local MSU Extension office.

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