Cold weather means most people choose to stay inside to stay warm, and understandably so. Wrapped around a warm blanket and sipping hot chocolate or tea will easily float into anyone’s winter to-do list.
While you can be warm indoors, wild animals must discover ways to stay warm outside. Have you ever asked the question, “how do deer stay warm in the winter?” Do they hibernate in the same way that snakes, bears, and skunks do? Where do they sleep when it’s cold?
This ultimate guide aims to answer these and many more questions about deer survival in winters.
How Do Deer Stay Warm in the Winter?
Did you know that deer are a critically endangered species in North America? Their primary habitat is the forest, and they’ve evolved effectively to withstand the winter — such is nature!
Most animals have some form of protection against the cold. You might think that deer hibernate. Indeed, some animals do as they sleep all winter only to wake up in the spring. However, this is not the case with deer because deer do not hibernate.
Deer have seven adaptation behaviors that help them stay warm even in the coldest parts of winter. These seven behaviors include the following methods.
1. Develop New Coats to Keep Them Warm
Deer physically prepare themselves for the winter by thickening their coats. This “winter coat” of theirs captures more sunshine and stores more body heat than a summer coat, providing exceptional warmth and protection from the vicious snow.
Hollow hairs make up the upper layer of this coat. Any snow or rain that falls on a deer’s coat simply glides off the guard hairs, preventing their coat from getting drenched in water.
Deer progressively trade their summer hair covering for a winter one made of longer, thicker, and darker guard hairs, making for a considerably thicker coat.
2. High Carb Diet to Conserve Energy
Deer change their habits to survive the relentless winter. They’re usually less active during winter, with their metabolism falling by 50% or more, allowing them to conserve energy and eat less.
White-tailed deer, caribou deer, and some other deer species eat more food in the autumn to build an extra layer of fat on their bodies. This is common among animals that live in locations with bitterly cold winters.
These mammals tend to eat a variety of foods. Deer eat leaves, grass, twigs, stems, and other plant life throughout the summer months. Such low-calorie foods provide them with the energy they require to survive winter.
3. To Stay Warm, Deer Move Less
White-tailed deer slow down in the winter to conserve their fat stores and energy reserves. During summer and spring, you might see deer moving around, playing, or grazing in a field. However, their physical activity decreases dramatically during the winter. They wander more during the day when the weather is warm and sleep all through the night to conserve energy.
Did you know that when an animal’s metabolism slows down, it doesn’t need as much food as it normally would? This comes in handy during winters when food is scarce, and hunting vigorously isn’t an option.
4. Deer Search for “Deer Yards”
Deer find suitable shelter to keep themselves warm. They seek refuge in places where the chilly winds cannot penetrate, and they may find some protection — this could be coniferous forest or on a field’s border.
Deer yards are regions with ideal characteristics for winter survival, such as coniferous trees that shield against cold and trap warmth, food source, and neighboring south-facing hills to absorb the sun’s heat on hot days. One can usually spot many deer in a deer yard, and rightly so.
5. Develop Hard Pads
During the winter, deer’s pads must adjust to the changing temperatures. They usually harden into the shape of an ice pick, which deer then use to cut through layers of ice and snow depths, preserving their balance.
Deer’s hooves, along with their antlers, are pivotal as far as their winter survival tactics are concerned. Deer utilize their hooves to dig up food buried in the snow.
6. Control Body Temperature
All mammals, including deer, are endothermic in that they generate the majority of their heat from within their body. Sure, they absorb a lot of heat from the outside, but a considerable chunk of their body heat is self-generated.
Furthermore, deer can regulate the heat levels in specific areas of their bodies. In extremely low temperatures, they divert the heat from their feet to their internal organs. Of course, they must take care not to freeze their legs and ensure that a tiny amount of heat is at all times transferred to the rest of their body.
7. Lower Their Heart Rate
Deer can quickly run out of energy owing to their big bodies. We’ve talked about how they lower their body temperature to conserve energy. Along the same lines, they reduce their heart rate for the same purpose to conserve energy.
A deer’s resting heart rate is between 40 and 50 beats per minute (normal heart rate in spring is about 65 beats per minute), which slows down continually throughout the winter, irrespective of the deer’s consumption.
Deer are fascinating creatures who know how to adapt to their surroundings. They’ll start looking for the simplest and most accessible food sources before the onset of winter and will drastically change their behavior during the teeth-clattering months.
How do deer stay warm in the winter? To put it briefly, deer grow a winter coat and start digging into their fat reserves. They’ll also seek thermal shelter to keep themselves warm at night. A healthy deer can fast for several weeks without experiencing any side effects.
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