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December 11, 2022 - Herp Dormancy

Lac d’or Pond and Parker Reed Shelter | Trail of the Senses

The temperature at night has been dropping below freezing lately, hardening the ground and freezing the water that lies on the surface. Around this time of year, the landscape is changing and the animals are too. Many creatures will take on new adaptations to overwinter and survive the cold months. Reptiles and amphibians will recognize environmental cues that foreshadow the coming of winter and seek out water or a hibernaculum. These are locations where reptiles and amphibians can protect themselves from the cold and go dormant. Some species of frogs will submerge themselves into water and bury themselves in the mud. Once settled in the mud, frogs breathe cutaneously through their skin and go dormant.

Wood frogs are able to perform an amazing winter undertaking. Similarly, they will submerge themselves in the mud of the forest floor and freeze over. Once ice crystals begin to coat the frog and form on their organs and cells, their liver will begin to produce glucose which will make its way into the cells and bind with water molecules. This keeps the cells from freezing and prevents the frog from getting dehydrated. It is in this state that wood frogs are able to survive all winter without a heartbeat or breathing.

Lac d’or Pond

Terrestrial species are not the only ones that have developed this way to survive winters. Walking the Trail of the Senses, I noticed that Lac d’or Pond had begun to freeze over in some places. These changing conditions will affect the way fish maintain function under a frozen lid. Large bodies of water like Lac d’or, will not freeze solid, rather the surface will ice over and the water beneath remains as it was. The aquatic species below will be able to function as usual in the cold water because they are cold-blooded and have a few different adaptations. Many species of fish are able to raise their body temperatures through burning calories if they’ve eaten enough food. This requires a lot of effort and energy however. Oftentimes fish will slow down throughout the winter to conserve their energy until the water warms and the ice thaws.


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