Where do amphibians and reptiles go in winter?

Some of our region’s mammals and birds either hibernate or migrate to survive the cold winter season of limited food resources. Snug in dens, they snooze through the cold weeks and months or fly thousands of miles to tropical regions full of insects and blooming flowers.

Many other animals are still visible during the winter, finding shelter among conifer evergreens and foraging for grasses, seeds and berries. Our carnivorous predator animals, such as coyote and fox, rely on smaller prey animals for survival, as do raptors, such as hawks and owls.

What about our aquatic and terrestrial amphibians and reptiles? How does a frog survive when its pond home is frozen solid, and where do salamanders go for the winter? How does a turtle breath under a layer of thick ice, and where do snakes go to escape the cold? The survival of these animals is just as fascinating as the long migration of birds or the winter snooze of woodchucks and chipmunks.

Unlike warm-blooded mammals and birds, amphibians and reptiles are cold-blooded and don’t generate their own body heat. They are living thermometers and their body temperatures mirror that of their environment, making winter a great challenge for survival. They need to hibernate and somehow keep warm to prevent freezing to death.

During warmer months, frogs breathe through their lungs and we’ll see them with the tip of their head and nose just sticking up out of the water to take in air, or out of the water sunning themselves on a log or edge of the pond . But in winter, when the surface of the pond is frozen over, they snuggle down inside the mud to avoid freezing and rely on an amazing ability to take in life-giving oxygen through their skin.

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