By Eric Duran
As colder temperatures set in and winter begins, many of the animals in our area are preparing in different ways. Some animals can cope with the cold, and some animals — not so much.
The relatively mild winters in Houston give animals a broader set of options as to how they can last through the season. This month, we’ll have a look at three of the strategies that animals employ to survive through Coastal Texas winters.
So, when it’s way too cold, you could always just…drop dead. A lot of small invertebrates, like insects and spiders, simply can’t survive cold temperatures, and so they just die. Many of these creatures seem to disappear completely during the winter. Most of them, however, leave something behind, like overwintering eggs or larvae.
Somewhere under a log, a spider egg sac is attached to the underside waiting for warmer temperatures. Somewhere in a pond, beetle larvae wait in the mud for spring. Their parents passed away with the first frosty blasts of winter weather.
If we were farther north, we would talk about hibernation, the winter dormancy which some mammals undertake. Here in the South, it doesn’t quite get cold enough for our bears, ground squirrels and bats to go into full-blown hibernation. Our fellow warm-blooded friends tend to tough out the Southern winters.
Cold-blooded reptiles, amphibians, and some fish are not equipped to stay active during Houston winters, though, and so go into their own form of winter dormancy, called “brumation.” The green anole lizards, gulf coast toads, and garter snakes in our yards and parks find cover in rotten logs, tree hollows and under leaf litter to spend the season in a long slumber.
Another option is leaving town. Central and South America stay warm throughout our winters, so birds like Purple Martins and Common Nighthawks leave the Houston area. They will migrate back in spring to build nests and raise their young.
For many birds, dragonflies and butterflies though, we are “South for the winter.” Many of these animals only show up in Houston during the winter (or the period just preceding winter). Green Darner dragonflies and Red Admiral butterflies show up in late fall and hang out along the Gulf Coast until spring. Birds such as Cedar Waxwings, Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers and American Goldfinches show up in early winter to ride out milder a winter than they would if they stayed in the North.
Death, brumation and migration are three effective strategies for coping with winter temperatures, but some animals just stick around, stay awake and deal with it. Blue Jays, Gray Squirrels and White-tailed Deer try to pack on the pounds in autumn so they can last through the food scarce season to come.
That’s winter for wildlife in Bellaire and West U.
If you’d like to see some of the birds that visit our communities in winter, join us on our monthly nature hikes, Wednesday Bird Walks or Saturday Family “Walk on the Wildside” excursions. Call 713-667-6550 or visit our website at NatureDiscoveryCenter.org for more info and our schedule.
Duran is the staff naturalist at the Nature Discovery Center, 7112 Newcastle Dr., Bellaire