Winter World : The Ingenuity of Animal Survival

by Bernd Heinrich | Outdoors & Nature |
ISBN: 0060957379 Global Overview for this book
Registered by wingGoryDetailswing of Nashua, New Hampshire USA on 1/14/2004
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This book is in the wild! This Book is Currently in the Wild!
1 journaler for this copy...
Journal Entry 1 by wingGoryDetailswing from Nashua, New Hampshire USA on Wednesday, January 14, 2004
The lovely cover-pic of the curled-up-all-snuggly chipmunk caught my eye as I was wandering through Barnes & Noble before yesterday's Meetup. Since it's been seriously cold hereabouts [today's topping out at about 0 degrees Fahrenheit], I had been wondering how the wildlife manages it; the birds and squirrels have all been scampering or flittering about as usual, even though some of them are so tiny you'd think they'd freeze solid in a matter of minutes... So when I saw this book I figured it was the answer to my unspoken questions, and I bought it! [OK, it was the artwork, too. So sue me. ;-)]

Journal Entry 2 by wingGoryDetailswing from Nashua, New Hampshire USA on Monday, January 26, 2004
Fascinating facts, if a bit dry. It does reveal why I'm not a naturalist, among other things; it would never have occurred to me, upon seeing a road-killed chipmunk, to stuff the corpse's cheek-pouches with seeds to find out for myself how many the creatures could carry! That, and a good many other investigative techniques, illustrate how differently curiousity takes us; I look at small birds in winter and wonder how they survive, but Heinrich spends hours in the woods observing them, climbing trees to see if birds are spending the night in old squirrel nests, probing the little critters with thermometers to find out if they go into torpor at night, even killing some so as to measure body fat and examine stomach contents to see what they eat in winter. [I don't think I was ever that curious - although, having read the book, I'm looking at all the local winter wildlife with new eyes!]

From bees to birds to bears, Heinrich describes his own observations and the experiments done by others, revealing a wide variety of techniques for surviving harsh conditions. I knew that bears hibernated, but I hadn't realized - or hadn't thought about - how remarkable it is that so large a creature can remain immobile for months, without eating, drinking, or relieving itself, and wake in the spring with no significant ill effects. Even if a person could survive that long without water and without being poisoned by their own unexpelled wastes, they'd have bedsores and severely weakened muscles and bones after a few months; how do the bears do it?

Some birds survive by going into a state of near-coma overnight - suspended animation, in which they're barely alive. Others huddle together for warmth and do not go into torpor; this costs more energy but allows them to react more quickly to a sudden change of situation. Still others combine tactics as the circumstances warrant - aided by the fact that birds can apparently allow their feet and legs to reach near-freezing temperatures while the rest of them is considerably warmer, without getting frostbite.

There's a chapter on hibernating squirrels; not all squirrels hibernate, but some of those that do seem to need to awake - or nearly awake - at intervals in order to dream! At least, that's the deduction of experimenters who observed a periodic warming up of the animals to the point where REM sleep began.

Some insects can survive being frozen solid at some stages of their development, while at other stages they're more vulnerable; timing is critical... Other creatures [amphibians especially] seem able to create their own antifreeze, allowing themselves to be super-cooled and survive at sub-freezing temperatures without cell damage.

Fascinating stuff, all of it. One thing kept coming to mind, though; many of the studies of everything from wasps to birds to bears included some researchers sneaking up on the subjects and probing them with thermometers. Rectal thermometers. And all I could think of was those reports of alien abductions, and the infamous anal probes... are we being visited by naturalists? {grin}

Release planned for Tuesday, March 30, 2004 at controlled release in n/a, given to family member Controlled Releases.

Controlled release:

I'm sending this to my parents in Texas, as I think they'll be just as fascinated by the book as I was. [I'm making release notes for this purely because I love the cover picture so much that I want it to flicker by on the "last 3 released" box, however briefly. My parents aren't Internet-enabled and won't journal this, but eventually they'll pass it on, so perhaps it will land in the "last 3 caught" box someday too...]

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