Five Animals Handling Winter Like a Boss

#EcoList of Things We Love

Cybele Knowles
Center for Biological Diversity
4 min readNov 3, 2016


We get ready for winter by dragging our coats out from the back of the closet, turning up the thermostat and, if pressed, enjoying a few pumpkin spice lattes. But how do animals deal with winter? Here are five wild creatures who weather the meanest season with aplomb.

Bear: Eat All the Things

Black bear by Eugene Beckes/Flickr.

One of the main challenges of winter is food scarcity. Many animals meet this by building up fat reserves while they can. Grizzly bears, who need to gain around 2–3 pounds per day through the fall to survive winter, chow down on a delicious smorgasbord of roots, tubers, berries, seeds, nuts, grasses, mushrooms, insects, honey, rodents, fish, carrion and occasionally garbage.

You may have imagined bears to be mighty predators, but they rarely kill other big animals. Bears are actually opportunistic omnivores, snacking on large quantities of smaller treats. (Sound familiar?)

Dormouse: Hit the Snooze Button

Hibernating dormice by Kentish Plumber/Flickr.

Some animals respond to low temperatures and scarce food with a metabolic slowdown. Hibernation is an extreme form of this in which the animal’s body temperature may drop to that of its surroundings, and heart rate and breathing decrease by up to 90 percent. Torpor is a less drastic metabolic slowdown, a kind of hibernation lite.

One of the few mammals that truly hibernates is the dormouse, whose name comes from the Anglo-Norman dormeus, meaning “sleepy one.” Hazel dormice hibernate beneath leaf litter on the forest floor or under hedgerows from about October through May.

If you could use some calming down for any reason, check out this video of gentle Brits conducting a survey of passed-out dormice in a peaceful Suffolk forest.

Arctic Terns: Let’s Jet

Arctic tern by OddurBen/Wikimedia.

Many animals migrate — including birds, monarch butterflies, caribou, bats and whales — but Arctic terns have the longest migration, annually traveling thousands of miles between the Arctic and Antarctic like decadent billionaires on private jets. These four-ounce birds truly are the ballers of the animal kingdom. On the other end of the spectrum we have more earthbound emus, who follow rainfall on foot. Treat yourself to this video of emus migrating.

Wood Frog: Bring. It. On.

Wood frog by Dave Huth/Flickr.

For most living beings, freezing is fatal. Cells are pierced by ice crystals, organs are damaged, blood flow and oxygen transport ceases — and usually death ensues. But the audacious wood frog survives freezing by creating its own antifreeze: high amounts of glucose circulated throughout its tissues that regulate ice formation. Wood frogs, whose habitat extends to the Arctic Circle, stay frozen for several months, thaw out, and then continue with their froggish business like nothing ever happened.

Field Cricket: I’d Rather Die

Cricket by Jean-Christophe/Flickr.

Some animals, knowing their limits, skip winter completely by limiting their life cycle to the warm months. Field crickets hatch in the spring and then quickly power through their to-do list — finishing their development into adults, mating and egg-laying — before dying in early winter. The eggs survive the cold, and the nymph crickets emerge in the spring, ready for their short life of sweet summer and nary a worry about the woes of winter.

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