This photo taken back in 2018 and sent in by Ruth Grierson shows nicely how snowshoe hares blend in the winter months. ISLANDER FILE PHOTO

Nature: Wildlife must also dress for the season

Winter weather and lower temperatures send us into the closet for warmer clothes. Wildlife has different ways of preparing. Plumage is duller and less conspicuous, denser and more closely interlocked. Ducks have a downy undergrowth preventing water and cold weather from getting in. Underwear for furry wildlife takes the form of very short hairs that sprout along the roots of the regular long fur. If you’ve slept under a deerskin blanket, you know how warm that can be.


All insects are cold blooded, which means that their temperature is generally that of their surroundings, so cold weather does slow them down. I was surprised after a snowfall one day to find a fly walking on the snow. Very cold weather makes insects adapt in their own special way in order to survive.



Mullein plant.

Insects, for the most part, do not travel from north to south as birds do, but they do migrate up and down. Some go from living on the ground to living below ground, beneath a fallen log, down in a rocky crevice or deep in a leaf pile. Water insects go into deeper water or into the muddy bottoms of a pond. Other insects survive the winter as eggs in a neat sac or case made by the parents. Some insects even survive the cold by crawling between the wooly leaves of a mullein plant.


Try not to disturb leaf piles, old stumps and other such places in the landscape in the winter. You could be creating havoc with all sorts of small wildlife trying to survive the winter.


Coyotes were in the Mount Desert Islander news recently. They resemble a small collie but are more slender, with erect, pointed ears and a bushy, drooping tail. Their fur is dense, long and coarse. Both sexes look alike. Originally the coyote was a creature of the open plains of the U.S. and could be found from Alaska through the western U.S. to Central America. In the last 50 years, its range has extended into the eastern U.S. and Canada. It first appeared in Maine in 1936.

In the East, coyotes mainly live in brushy country bordering the edge of second-growth hardwood forests, fields, thickets and marshlands. They are widespread on MDI. Their home range may be 5 miles in diameter when food is plentiful, but it may extend to 20-25 miles in the winter.


Coyotes do eat deer, but they are scavengers more than killers. They do not cause the decline in deer in any particular season.


Domestic dogs, bobcats and changes in the forests have the biggest effect on local deer populations. We actually have an over-population of deer on this island.


I like hearing the yelping and howling of the coyotes in the woods. They seem to laugh, howl, warble and yip either singly or together to call other coyotes or to give a warning. I used to have a lovely old red setter named Chester that would sit up in the living room when he heard the sound, tip his head back and howl along with them.



Porcupines are found all over this island. They spend most of their time in trees, especially in the fall and winter. They are sure footed, slow moving and walk with a waddle, swinging their hips from side to side. If they try to speed up, they look clumsy. Their speed is about 2 mph.


They protect themselves with their quills, but they do not throw these quills. The quills come out easily when they touch something and that usually repels an enemy.


Porcupines are rodents and are solitary for most of the year. Winter may bring several together to den in a cave or a deep crevice. They often spend their days high in an apple tree. They climb trees to avoid mosquitoes. I find them to be interesting mammals and they cooperate when you want to take photos.


Our snowshoe hares are white these winter days and harder to see when snow is on the ground. From now until March, they will be white and will blend well with a Maine landscape. If we have a winter with little snow, they will have a hard time escaping their enemies.


The snowshoe hare is also called the varying hare since it changes the color of it fur coat to match the season. They have lots of young, and many larger animals and birds need them for food.


Let me know what you are seeing or send me questions at [email protected].

Ruth Grierson

Ruth Grierson

Send any questions or observations to [email protected] or call 244-3742.
Ruth Grierson

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