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Scarce Snow Affects Snowshoe Hares, Black Bears

Dec 23, 2015 08:07 PM EST
Snowshoe hare
Normally at this time of year, snowshoe hares would blend into snow as the one in this photo does. But in many northern states and provinces, El Niño this year has meant delayed snowfalls are leaving white hares looking conspicuous to predators in brown leaves. The hares' coats turn color according to the length of daylight. Bears are also spending more time outside of their dens in several areas.
(Photo : Wikipedia Commons)

Warm weather brought by El Niño has had mixed effects on animals in usually snowy places, including New England, according to an Associated Press article.

Some animals seem to benefit from having a reprieve to gather more food before winter, and from expending less energy in daily survival mode. Others, like snowshoe hares, are put at center-stage in predators' view when they lack snow for disguising their white fur--not a good thing for them, of course. Long- and short-tailed weasels also grow in white coats. They and the hares both have coats that change color due to a change in daylight's length.

Black bears, on the other hand, have been keeping busy gathering nuts and apples, when they would normally have settled into their winter dens by now. Vermont and Massachusetts officials have asked residents to wait till snow falls to put out their bird feeders, in order not to attract hungry bears to the seeds and the birds, the article said.

"We suggest waiting for 6 or more inches of snow that lasts before putting out your bird feeders, especially if you have been visited in the past by bears or if there are sightings of bears in your neighborhood," Forrest Hammond, Vermont Fish and Wildlife's bear biologist, said in the article. "Due to lack of snow and frozen ground, birds are able to forage in fields and forests for their natural foods."

In Maine, although bears were out and about for longer than normal this year, most seem to be in their dens now, as Judy Camuso, Maine Department of Inland, Fisheries and Wildlife's director of wildlife, said in the article.

Conversely, Colorado received a thick blanket of snow this week and bears went into their dens on schedule this fall, Mat Robbins, Colorado Parks and Wildlife spokesman, said in the article.

Snow amounts can also determine how comfortable bears are and how quickly they expend accumulated fat during hibernation, noted Hammond in the article. This is because snow covers and insulates the dens, and also hides them from predators.

For more great nature science stories and general news, please visit our sister site, Headlines and Global News (HNGN).

-Follow Catherine on Twitter @TreesWhales

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