The autumn is an active period in the desert – after summer’s heat, things cool down a bit and it’s a great time to catch tarantulas, roadrunners and quail out and about. Behind a flurry of activity are animals, plants and insects making their preparations for the winter.
Many of the desert’s insects and animals rely on underground holes to help them regulate the temperature and weather extremes of the desert climate. In the summer, these burrows are used to get relief from the summer sun. When winter rolls around, many desert creatures again go underground to avoid the cold night time air.
The holes you find in the desert all tell the tales of the many occupants who make use of this smart strategy for survival. Never stick your finger or hand into a desert hole – poisonous critters like snakes, scorpions and spiders may be the main tenant and they won’t be pleased to have a visitor! Other burrow-dwelling animals may fight back if their burrow is invaded, so leave desert holes alone.
You can tell a lot about the occupant of a burrow just by the shape of the hole. Desert tortoise carve burrows in a distinct shape that fits them to a “T” -flat on the bottom with a shell-shaped arch above. Coyote dens are usually large holes with multiple entrance points in a close area. Many animals who hibernate in the winter create a special subterranean chamber to hide out in, called a hibernacula.
Hibernation and Torpor
Many desert creatures respond to winter by powering down their bodies and metabolisms dramatically. Different species of desert mammals, reptiles and amphibians and even some birds respond to the drop in temperature by going into hibernation or torpor. Hibernation puts the body of the animal in a stasis that can last days, weeks or even months during the winter.
Interestingly, to cope with summer heat in the desert, some of our fauna also enters the summer equivalent of hibernation. Aestivation, conserving resources through extreme lethargy to survive heat, is the summertime version of hibernation.
For hibernation, the body temperature of the hibernator drops extremely low, hovering around 40°F. Heartbeat rates for hibernators also slow to a crawl. In some species their active heart rate of 600 beats per minute deescalates to under 20 beats per minute during hibernation periods. Animals who hibernate need few resources to sustain themselves. The bodies of hibernating animals slowly burn fat stored on their body to live. Alternately, the animal may rouse itself during warmer days to either eat stored food in its hibernacula or hunt for food and resources.
Torpor is a more restless version of hibernation. Animals who go into torpor slow their body down to an inactive state more efficient than sleep for periods of hours or days. Torpid fauna can respond to external threats, shaking themselves into an active state relatively quickly. Many animals hibernate in a torpid state where they have long periods of inactivity but can be roused. Tortoises and rattlesnakes are two iconic desert animals who are torpid hibernators.
One of the most astonishing winter survival skills animals demonstrate is the ability to protect themselves from freezing temperatures by secreting a natural antifreeze into their circulation. Chemicals that act as antifreeze protect the cells in the animal’s body from being killed by freezing.
Some animals use their antifreeze to protect their muscles and organs while they are frozen in water or mud. Some desert toads are able to maintain their body temperature internally while their skin is permitted to freeze solid. Other creatures use their antifreeze capabilities to avoid freezing altogether. The antifreeze in some caterpillars has the potential to keep water liquid in their bodies when temperatures drop as low as -36°F.
Lucky for us, humans don’t have to stay inside all winter. Our autumn food preparations usually just mean ensuring we have enough candy for trick-or-treaters and enough turkey for all the Thanksgiving guests. But keeping your home at a comfortable temperature will always come into play as the temperature drops. Knowing how to work with the Arizona sun is CC Sunscreen’s specialty. We build stylish, custom sunscreens for your home or business that help you regulate the temperature of your home and save on energy expenses. Sounds like a good idea? It is! Give us a call today to see what CC Sunscreens can do for you.