By Monica Lasky on May 13, 2019
Languages and cultures throughout time have repeated proverbs that talk about nature’s seasons: “Blossom by blossom the spring begins.” “Gather wood in the summer and sit by the fire in the winter.” “There is a season for everything in life.” Most of these sayings have an overarching theme of change, whether it be in life, behavior, or the literal annual fluctuations of the weather. Just as people feel the effects of seasonal changes, wildlife must live through the harsh warmth of summer to freezing cold of winter.
- Average high and low temperature each month in Raleigh, NC.
Every year in Raleigh, North Carolina, the average low in January is a frigid 30 degrees, while the average high in July is a balmy 89 degrees. Many species in and around the city must survive both these extremes year after year. Each animal has its own way to adapt to extreme changes in weather patterns, whether by hiding in an underground burrow to avoid the midday summer sun or growing long, thick fur to keep out the wet and cold in winter.
- Coyote in Dare County, panting to keep itself cool in the hot weather.
In the heat, mammals will lower their body temperature by sweating, panting, or fanning themselves with ears or tails. Coyotes and other canines will pant, circulating air through their body to cool themselves down. Mammals, unlike many other critters, are ‘warm-blooded’, or endothermic, which means that they can maintain a certain body temperature using the physiological and behavioral changes discussed above or by increasing and decreasing their metabolism.
Woodchucks, for instance, go into hibernation to conserve energy in the winter. Like many animals, they will eat and collect a considerable amount of food in the summer and fall to store up their reserves for the long, cold months. Then, in November, their metabolism decreases drastically, and they go into a type of deep “sleep” known as torpor. However, they still have to wake up once in awhile to eat some of the food they stored in their dens and to relieve themselves. Then, they wake up in the spring and begin moving around much more frequently.
So, how do we know how animals are affected by seasonal changes? A great way for scientists to understand the biology of different species is by conducting research, just as we do here at Candid Critters. For example, by setting our camera traps, we can see that we get woodchucks more frequently during the spring – when they have just woken up from their hibernation – compared to other seasons.
- Seasonal patterns of detection rate for woodchuck at Prairie Ridge Ecostation, Raleigh, NC.
This is just one example as to how scientists use trail cameras to understand wildlife behavior. Can you think of another way we can use our data to learn what animals are doing across North Carolina? Respond in the comment section below with your ideas!
 National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. National Centers for Environmental Information. https://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/
 North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, North Carolina WILD Wildlife Profiles. “Woodchuck”. https://www.ncwildlife.org/Portals/0/Learning/documents/Profiles/woodchuck.pdf
 North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission. ”Black Bear Hibernation”. https://www.ncwildlife.org/Learning/Species/Mammals/Black-Bear/Black-Bear-Hibernation