How's the Weather Out There?

This cheetah can't change its spots, but it does have a heated den.
This cheetah can't change its spots, but it does have a heated den. (By Mehgan Murphy -- Smithsonian Institution)
Thursday, December 20, 2007

If you were an animal, how would you survive the winter chilliness and snow?

Forget about putting on a fluffy coat, burrowing under cozy blankets or sipping hot chocolate.

Animals in the wild have other ways to adapt (change in order to survive).

They might grow a thick fur coat or fly south to where it's warm. Some animals change color; Arctic hares, for example, change from brown to white to blend in with the snow (that's called camouflage). And some hibernate, sleeping through much of the winter so they need less energy and food at a time when food often is scarce.

Zoo animals don't need to worry about finding shelter or having enough food.

But, like their cousins in the wild, they have special ways to deal with the cold.

A Nice Fur Coat Helps

Many animals that spend time outdoors -- such as Przewalski's wild horses, sloth bears and Mexican wolves -- grow a thick winter coat.

If you could pet the wolves (not recommended!) "it would be like burying your hands in the fur of a Saint Bernard," says Don Moore, who helps direct animal care at the National Zoo. "It's this thick, luxurious, long-haired coat."

Even the seals and sea lions grow longer hair in cold weather. Their wet bodies appear slick, so "it looks like they don't have hair, but they do," Moore says. "It's close to their skin and blubber."

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