We see deer all winter long. How are they not freezing when the temperatures dip down, down, down? White-tailed deer are adapted to deal with everything Illinois’ weather throws at them.
In the winter, they insulate themselves, just like your house is insulated. To do this, they start growing thicker fur in the fall. They actually have two types of fur: a softer, downy fur that sits next to their skin and keeps them warm and longer guard hairs. These guard hairs are hollow, just like a straw. Why? Because air gets trapped inside each hair as well as all around the guard hairs. That air gets warmed up by the deer’s body heat and is trapped all around the deer. Imagine it like a warm blanket. In fact, think about how you warm up at home under the blankets. One blanket is good, but two is better. It’s not just because of the extra weight. It’s because you are capturing air between the blankets and warming that air up with your body heat.
Deer are not the only animals trying to keep themselves warm in a blanket of air. Keep an eye out for birds that are fluffing up their feathers to trap in warm air. And otters don’t just rely on their blubber; they also trap a layer of air in their fur to keep them cozy. Beavers do the same thing. You would think that with all the cold water they would freeze, but beavers stay comfortable by trapping warm pockets of air in the fur next to their skin. This is how they can dive underwater all year long. Further away from Will County, polar bears also use the hollow fur strategy.
We are learning from these brilliant animal adaptations. Have you noticed all the puffy coats people wear in winter? Smoosh a puffy coat between your hands. See how it deflates? Yep, we’re using air pockets in our puffy coats! Scientists are even working on wet suits that mimic semiaquatic diving animals like beavers and otters. They are trying to lock in air next to the suit as divers go underwater. Basically, furry wet suits are in our future!
The real killer in winter is not so much the cold; it is the damp. Animals like deer need to make sure to keep dry. They do this with oil that coats their skin. And just like their air insulation, deer are not the only animals who do this. Birds, otters, beavers and more also rely on oils to seal out the moisture.
Again, we can learn from these animals. When you are outside running around it is important to make sure you are dry. You are more likely to get hypothermia from being wet than cold. This is why you should wear layers. That way, you can pull off your outer layers when you get warm from moving around. You do not want to sweat, get damp and then catch a chill. Don’t forget sweat-wicking fabrics to help you stay warm and dry.
Deer and other animals are masters of surviving winter. By learning from them and using their methods, we, too, can enjoy all that cold weather has to offer!
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