Annual winter slumber going ahead as usual

Do you think the mild weather and lack of snow might confuse animals to think it’s spring? And that hibernating critters might not settle their brains for a long winter’s nap this year?
Not likely, according to MNR biologist Darryl McLeod, who said animals will hibernate regardless of how much snow was on the ground.
“Certainly snow normally helps some animals with hibernation. [But] the animals’ biological clocks would tell them it’s time to do that anyway,” he explained, noting bears usually start hibernation around the end of October.
If there wasn’t enough snow to dig out a den, the animal will find some excavated area, such as between rocks.
“The only other minor impact would be if you’ve got a thaw or rain,” McLeod said, noting if the den got too damp, the animal might move to a dryer place.
“[But] I would suspect it would be minimal,” he added.
Animals go into hibernation as an adaptive mechanism to deal with the shortage of food when snow blankets the ground. The animal’s metabolism drops, allowing it to conserve energy over the cold winter months.
During the summer months, bears average 15 breaths per minute, with that slowing to between two and four breaths per minute during hibernation.
Their body temperature also drops somewhat, from 38 C in summer to 34 C in the winter.
MNR biologist John Vandenbroeck noted bears don’t go into a true hibernation–just a deep sleep. So it is possible to stir them. If that happens, Vandenbroeck said the bear might get up and wander around for a while but then would head back to sleep.
Bears also produce a hard fecal plug that prevents them from defecating while they’re down for the winter months.
In related news, the lack of snow so far could mean a good winter for the local deer population.
In 1995, the deer population declined because it was such a hard winter with the overall severity. Some 50 cm of snow severely restricted deer from accessing food and getting away from predators.
But the population didn’t decline further last year, with this year’s herd showing signs of an increase if it’s a good winter.
“So far, with respect to deer, we’re in pretty good shape,” Vandenbroeck noted, with the longer fall giving deer a chance to get healthier. “It’s hard to predict this early in the season.
“The best indicator of deer population is the [hunter] success rate,” he added, noting it reflects the impact that the previous winter had on the deer population.
About half the hunters were successful in the fall of ’95 but that dropped to a quarter last year because of the severe winter in 1995-96.
The success rate for ’97 hasn’t been tallied yet. Hunters are reminded to fill out their district survey cards, which should be arriving in the mail soon.
Meanwhile, while there have been reports of more wolves in the area, Vandenbroeck admitted he’d be surprised if it was linked to an actual increase in population.
“I think they might be congregating in the west end,” he said, noting the deer population could be drawing the boreal wolf packs there.