Friday, April 10, 2020

Rising from the freeze, embracing signs of spring

Spring is a time when flowers bloom and trees begin to grow. The days grow longer and the temperatures rise above 40 degrees. For the people who have weathered the winter, the melting of ice and thawing of the ground is greatly anticipated.  During this period, creatures who have adapted to the freezing temperatures through miraculous transformations in bodily functions, now rise to an altered green landscape. 

Many people have not witnessed these seasonal transformations, but as mountain dwellers in close proximity to these creatures, a glimpse becomes possible. Making it to spring is no small feat for animals that hibernate.  To humans, hibernation may appear restful but for the animals who hibernate, this state can be arduous. Some of these animals expend huge bursts of energy so their body temperatures don’t dip too low and do it with little to no food and water. 

Black bears

Black bears will begin to emerge from their dens around April, but may stay lethargic for weeks. During this so-called walking hibernation, they sleep plenty and don’t roam very far.  Despite losing up to one-third of their body weight over winter, they don’t have a huge appetite right away as their metabolism is not yet back to normal. They snack mostly on pussy willows and bunches of snow fleas. Slowly, the bears’ metabolism gears up to normal, active levels when plants start to sprout on the forest floor.

Bats

Bats have babies on their minds and fertilization happens a few days after females emerge from hibernation. After emerging from their Winter caves, the mothers-to-be move to a large tree or another cave. They are searching for a warm, stable environment where they can give birth to their young.  Bats often return to the same maternity spot year after year sometimes traveling hundreds of miles to get there. Dozens of mothers will congregate and cuddle to keep warm. When their pups are born, 50 to 60 days later, mothers may help each other by taking turns foraging for insects and roosting with the group. With no parenting responsibilities, and perhaps to avoid competing with the females, males will stay in torpor for longer.

Bees

Bumble bees are lone hibernators.  When the temperature drops, males and worker bees die off but the queen survives by hibernating. She hibernates in a hole in the soil, in rotten tree stumps or under leaf litter. She will emerge 6-8 months later, warm-up and then find a nice spot to build a nest and create a whole new team of bees.

Snakes

Unlike the bumblebee, who hibernates alone, garter snakes hibernate in groups. In the mountains where winters are exceptionally cold, there can be hundreds and sometimes thousands of snakes grouped together for warmth. Once spring arrives and the snow melts, they head out of their winter homes to bask in the sun. It’s a unique site to see.

Wood frogs

Each year late in the fall, the wood frog does a very strange thing: They freeze almost solid. Two-thirds of their body water turns to ice. If you picked them up, they would not move. If you bent one of their legs, it would break.  Inside these frozen frogs other weird and amazing things are going on. Their hearts stop beating, their blood no longer flows and their glucose levels sky rocket. The craziest thing of all may be that they can withstand temperatures as low as zero degrees Fahrenheit for as long as seven months. When spring comes and the frogs thaw, they turn as much of the glucose as they can back into glycogen, and they pee out the rest and hop away. They hurry to the nearest pond or lake to start mating.  They are very adamant about getting busy as they only have about five months to make babies and gather all the food that they can before the freezing process starts again.

These animals, among several others, are going through a constant process of change in order to adapt to the World outside. Seen or unseen, humans are not alone when it comes to winter preparation.  Outside our door’s creatures are following suit in their own unique ways.  

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Jackie Woodcock was born and lives in the Adirondack Mountains. She is an apiarist, lepidopterist, conservationist, teacher, writer, artist, and a co-owner of SkyLyfeADK. You can find her SkyLyfeADK on Instagram and Facebook.




16 Responses

  1. Nora says:

    Amazing , Thank you Jackie Woodcock for a very interesting and formative article .

  2. Arc Lighter says:

    Why the Yellowstone picture?

    • Hi Arc Lighter,
      Thank you for taking the time to read my article. I chose this picture as it was offered to me by a dear friend here in the Adirondacks that visits Yellow Stone yearly during the Spring. It was not my intention to offend anyone with this picture. It was freely offered and fit the narrative as Similar activities are happening there as well as in the Adirondacks. As a life long resident of the Adirondacks I do agree a majority of topics should evolve around life here, I was just sharing amazing events I have been witness to here at home as well as the sharing of the same events happening in Yellow Stone. I will be mindful to keep my topics local, however in the future I do plan to submit articles that pertain to amazing fauna that are not native to the Adirondacks, Honey bees as I am an apiarist ( We know those aren’t native to the Adirondacks) and Seasonal Information we collect about Migrating Monarchs which are in Mexico. I am hoping my articles do not offend you but give you a view into the heart of a writer. Than you for your feed back it is the catalyst for growth.
      Have a Blessed Easter.

  3. Pat B says:

    An informative article but I must agree with Arc Lighter. Upon opening the article link I immediately questioned the image. Shouldn’t Adirondack Almanack articles feature Adirondack scenery? If no Adirondack image readily available, stock photos of the wildlife being discussed would have been suitable.

    • Hi Pat,
      Thank you for reading my article and for the kind comments! As you saw, you were not the first to question the picture I used with my article. I am copying my message to Arc Lighter here as to share my intentions.
      Hi Arc Lighter,
      Thank you for taking the time to read my article. I chose this picture as it was offered to me by a dear friend here in the Adirondacks that visits Yellow Stone yearly during the Spring. It was not my intention to offend anyone with this picture. It was freely offered and fit the narrative as Similar activities are happening there as well as in the Adirondacks. As a life long resident of the Adirondacks I do agree a majority of topics should evolve around life here, I was just sharing amazing events I have been witness to here at home as well as the sharing of the same events happening in Yellow Stone. I will be mindful to keep my topics local, however in the future I do plan to submit articles that pertain to amazing fauna that are not native to the Adirondacks, Honey bees as I am an apiarist ( We know those aren’t native to the Adirondacks) and Seasonal Information we collect about Migrating Monarchs which are in Mexico. I am hoping my articles do not offend you but give you a view into the heart of a writer. Than you for your feed back it is the catalyst for growth.
      Have a Blessed Easter.

  4. Lakechamplain says:

    A minor point but I believe the photo is of Yosemite National Park. A beautiful place indeed, but the Dacks have some pretty nice scenery in spring too.

    • mike says:

      Lake, Agree, looks like Yosemite to me also.

    • Hello, Thank you for reading my article. The picture was provided by a friend and is of Yellowstone National Park.
      Have a good day!

      • Lakechamplain says:

        I have been to Yellowstone National Park and also to Yosemite National Park. That photo is NOT Yellowstone.

        • Boreas says:

          It is Yosemite Valley. El Cap on the left, Half Dome on the right. Unfortunately, this and other misidentified images are all over the net. I did a reverse-image lookup and it indeed states incorrectly it is Yellowstone. Still ain’t Wallface or Avalanche Pass.

  5. Jack B says:

    I really appreciate this article. I didn’t have a clue on the Wood Frogs. Like they always say, you learn something new every day, Thank You!

    • Nora says:

      Jack B I felt the same way couldn’t believe they freeze totally and then come back to life , like you said you learn something new each day !

  6. Sula says:

    Your information about the frogs is fascinating. As a fond frogaholic, I never knew this. I wonder about the honey bees and monarchs not being native–since they spend half of their time here, how are they not? Perhaps you could further explain at some point. Thanks so much for an interesting article.

    • Hi Sula,
      Thank you so much for reading my article and your kind comments! I have a childhood fear of frogs but find them fascinating. Honey bees are subtropical creatures and are transported to NY from warmer climates. As apiarists we have spent years researching many breeds of honey bees to find a breed that has the genetics to withstand the Winter and have developed a custom design hive to aid in survival here in the Adirondacks. I would love to put out more articles on this subject and will do my best to explain more about the Honey bee as well as native bees, bees are amazing creatures! As far as butterflies you are correct, I was speaking of a migration monitoring we will be doing this coming fall as Monarchs make their way to Mexico. We offer two Adopt a Monarch Programs to offer the public a window into conservation, they are both listed on our website skylyfeadk.com if you are interested. I will be writing articles about this as well in the future. Thank you for inquiring!
      Have a good day.

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