How animals survive winter’s harsh weather (and what you can learn from them)


In the dark, cold months of winter, we bundle up in down-filled coats, thick scarves, and waterproof mitts before stepping outdoors—and are thankful for central heating once back inside. But in the wild, animals have much more basic techniques to survive when the mercury drops. Here are some tips for weathering winter inspired by the animal kingdom.


Every fall, creatures as small as monarch butterflies and as big as caribou migrate south ahead of the snow, ice, and subzero wind chill. The arctic tern’s journey to escape winter is the longest—from its breeding grounds in Greenland all the way across the globe to Antarctica. The migratory move is not permanent—even the small seabird makes the long trip back to its home in the north. It’s no wonder Canadians who head south of the border to warm states, such as Florida and Arizona, for months during the winter are nicknamed snowbirds. We’re imitating migration in the animal kingdom. Those who can only manage a week or two of vacation might chose an island retreat in the Caribbean Sea to soak up some Vitamin D.

Fall into a deep sleep

When it’s oh-so-cold outside and food is scarce, some creatures curl up for a deep sleep. For true hibernators, that means their heart rate slows, they breathe less often, and their body temperature drops. Some frogs actually stop breathing entirely (their heart stops as ice crystals form in their blood) until the weather warms them back up again. Other animals, like bears, go into torpor, which is like a light hibernation. Though their heart rate drops and their metabolism slows, bears can be woken during their winter sleep. In fact, female bears can even give birth during torpor. Humans aren’t made to sleep for months at a time, but we can slow down. Cozy up by the fire to relax or cuddle up on the couch for a marathon TV-watching session. The early sunset and late sunrise of winter makes it an ideal time to catch up on some sleep.

Stock up

Squirrels are venerable hoarders—collecting cones and nuts ahead of winter to bury or pile up above the ground so they won’t starve when food becomes scarce. Stockpiling in the fall is a survival method for other non-hibernating creatures, such as the busy beaver. The large herbivore rodents store branches near their dams for easy access in the winter. We also harvest in the fall—whether it’s a backyard garden or a large-scale farm. The bounty of stock can be pickled, dried, frozen or otherwise preserved for the winter months.

Crowd together for warmth 

When it’s -40 C with harsh winds gusting through the expansive landscape of Antarctica, thousands of Emperor penguins huddle together for warmth. Female penguins leave the colony on long trek to the sea to feed, while male penguins stay behind to keep their eggs warm until they hatch. Though each male is only responsible for one egg, kept in a pouch near his feet, incubation is effectively a group effort. So if a power outage leaves you without heat, take a hint from Emperor penguins and form a huddle to share body heat. And if you’re caught waiting for a bus or standing in line in the cold frigid air, buddy up to keep warm.

Soak in warm water 

Japanese macaques, also known as snow monkeys, seem to have perfected winter relaxation. As snow drifts down on their furry brown heads and pink faces, the monkeys settle into natural hot springs to stay warm. Of course, soaking in Canadian hot springs can be most pleasurable after a day of winter sports. A hot tub or warm bath is also a nice way to warm your achy bones.