Winter World: the Ingenuity of Winter Survival
© 2009 Bernd Heinrich
When winter arrives in the upper reaches of the northern hemisphere, humans take refuge in homes warmed by central heat, or bundle up in clothing. But what do creatures far smaller and more fragile than us do? In a landscape apparently devoid of food, how do animals survive the months-along barrenness? In Winter World, Bernd Heinrich applies his own boundless curiosity and devotion to meticulous research to the question, and draws from the work of others to tell the astonishing story of life in winter.
Although in times past Heinrich has written books on particular animals (Ravens in Winter, Bumblebee Economics
this work on winter covers birds, bats, bears, bees, and even critters whose names don’t
begin with a bee. There are frogs, gophers, caterpillars – it’s a menagerie. Who ever thought the silent winter forest carried within it so much life? As varied as the creatures are the strategies they use to survive the long cold spell. Some, like us, adapt by creating a comfortable ‘microclimate’;
squirrels and beavers create residences for themselves that stave off some of the worse of the cold, while the snow itself provides another refuge. When it lays thick above the ground, it traps the Earth’s heat being radiated from the core upward, creating a thin layer of warmer air that animals like mice positively flourish
Other animals have mechanisms for
gaming their body temperature; some produce natural antifreezes that allow their body to function at subzero temperatures.
There is in short an abundance of ways animals combat the cold, Although Hendrich frequently refers to and summarizes the studies of other scientists, Winter World isn’t strictly a scientific survey. Heinrich is a naturalist, a man who earnestly loves his considerable time spent in the outdoors; from childhood on, he has spent long hours in the wilderness, for days and weeks at a time. He is a man who never passes up an opportunity to investigate nature’s secrets. Stumbling upon a chipmunk that lost a fight with an automobile, he couldn’t help but investigate its cheek pouches: just how many seeds could it carry, anyway? Another dead specimen, a kinglet, became the subject of another test as he microwaved it to find out how quickly it lost heat with its feathers on as opposed to without them. Some of the naturalists he cites are just as…passionate, like the man who invaded a den of bears and decided to test their awareness, eventually snuggling with one and recording its heartbeat.
Winter World is one book I’ve been itching to read, and it did not disappoint.
[2015 Reading Challenge: A Nonfiction Book COMPLETED 2/52]