Preparing to Hibernate?
By Michele S. Byers
Do you have visions of crawling into a cave with blankets and snoozing until spring, emerging only when New Jersey’s forests are once again carpeted with trout lilies and spring beauties?
Many creatures in this state we’re in are having those visions right now! But hibernation is more complicated than a long winter’s nap. Animals who prepare for winter have a variety of remarkable physiological strategies.
Over-wintering bats like federally endangered Indiana bats and some large rodents like woodchucks are New Jersey’s true hibernators. These mammals regulate their metabolism to create a torpid, cold, inactive state. Woodchucks spend many months with a constant body temperature of 38 degrees Fahrenheit. Almost never would a woodchuck wake up as early as Groundhog Day on Feb. 2, unless they are living in Punxsutawney, Pa.!
True hibernators slow their metabolism and lower their body temperatures independent of the outside temperature. If they wake up in mid-winter for brief periods, their metabolic rates and body temperatures go up. But arousal from slumber costs a loss of energy. That’s why white-nose fungus has taken such a serious toll on our smallest native bats. The fungus disrupts their sleep and causes them to fly and exhaust their precious fat reserves.
In the New Jersey Highlands region, hibernating cave-dwelling bats have been devastated by the fungus. Seemingly healthy bats will enter their caves in the next few weeks – but very few will manage to survive until spring.
Black bears are notorious for hibernating. Bears like cramped conditions like caves, rock crevices and hollowed-out trees, and squeeze themselves into places that seem incredibly small for a creature weighing hundreds of pounds!
Unlike smaller mammals that hibernate, black bears do not drop their body temperature appreciably. They enter a state of torpor, or low metabolic activity, and, amazingly, recycle proteins so they don’t have to wake up to urinate. Bears are too big to allow their bodies to get really cold; they need to be able to wake up quickly in an emergency.
Perhaps this state’s most interesting hibernators are timber rattlesnakes. In the Ridge and Valley and Highlands regions, they hibernate in deep, rocky mountain crevices with southern exposure. In the Pine Barrens, with no rocky crevices, the rattlesnakes head toward water. They hibernate in pristine springs of cedar swamps, where the water never quite freezes. Imagine, six months beneath the moist roots of an old tree!
Northern pine snakes dig deep into Pine Barrens upland sands and hibernate about four feet below the surface. Snakes must fully digest their last autumn meal before hibernating, since undigested food in a reptile’s gut can easily lead to bacterial infection and death.
Dormancy, rather than hibernation, is the strategy of fish and many reptiles and amphibians, allowing them to survive extremely low oxygen conditions in the mud and deep water of ponds. Red-eared sliders, an invasive turtle species from the southern United States that has spread through New Jersey’s developed areas, can tolerate a lack of oxygen for exceptionally long periods.
Body chemistry helps some creatures survive the cold. Adult Mourning Cloak butterflies, for example, have “anti-freeze” compounds in their body fluids, which enable them to survive the winter inside hollow trees. These dark chocolate and cream-colored butterflies are the first big springtime butterfly to emerge, usually in March or early April.
Monarch butterflies that migrate from New Jersey to the Sierra Chincua in Mexico don’t hibernate, but they respond to colder temperatures. As they gather by millions in the remaining pine forests, they engage in “muscular shivering” to raise their body temperatures above the ambient air temperatures.
New Jersey’s homo sapiens have vastly different strategies to deal with winter. We turn up the thermostat or fly off to warm destinations, both of which contribute to rising atmospheric CO2 and climate change. If by 2100 our climate is more like that of Raleigh, N.CCC., Groundhog Day may have to move to mid-January, or Punxsutawney Phil will have already awakened and left his den!
To learn more about preserving New Jersey’s land and natural resources, visit the New Jersey Conservation Foundation website at www.njconservation.org or contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Michele S. Byers is the executive director of the New Jersey Conservation Foundation.
Literacy Volunteers Celebrate Family Literacy Week
By Rebecca Lucas
This week, Sept. 23 to 29, is Adult and Family Literacy week, but volunteers at Literacy Volunteers of Monmouth County (LVMC), know how important literacy skills are year round.
LVMC, a nonprofit organization that is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, provides tutoring to adults who want to achieve their personal dreams and potential through improved literacy.
Over the past three decades we have trained countless volunteers to become tutors to adults who need to improve their English literacy skills in reading, writing and/or conversational English. Today we have more than 120 active tutors who serve more than 600 students each year. These students come from 39 different countries including the United States.
But literacy skills are important to everyone regardless of age.
Although LVMC does not tutor children, we recognize the importance of family literacy and for children to be raised in an environment where literacy is appreciated. Reading, writing and speaking skills can be fostered and encouraged at home, as well as at school. Reading just 20 minutes a day to a child for one year will expose them to 1 million words and increase spelling grammar and writing skills.
Family literacy takes place during daily routines in life whether it’s writing a grocery list, speaking with a teacher or doctor, or reading a book.
Research shows that young children, who are read to regularly and have books in their homes, have a head start on reading and literacy skills when they enter school. Children whose parents are involved in family literacy activities score 10 points higher on standardized reading tests.
This past summer, as part of the United Way of Monmouth County’s early Grade Reading Grant and in collaboration with the Horizons Enrichment Program, Rumson, and Bridge of Books, Red Bank, LVMC offered a 10-week Family Literacy class to the parents of Red Bank elementary school children who were attending the Horizons Enrichment Program. While Horizon students participated in swimming lessons at the Red Bank YMCA, their parents met with tutors for one-to-one English tutoring. Parents and their children then joined together to work on a project related to the books that parents were given to read to their children by Bridge of Books.
LVMC will continue its mission to promote increased literacy for adults and encourage them to share their love of the written word with the entire family.
The next volunteer-tutor training session will be held from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Mondays, Oct. 7, 21, 28 and Nov. 4, 18, 25, at the Neptune Public Library, 25 Neptune Blvd., Neptune. The cost is $10 nonrefundable registration fee and an additional $35 for books and materials due at the first session for books and materials. Refresher courses are free to trained tutors.
For more information on LVMC or how to become a tutor, visit www.lvmonmouth.org or call 732-571-0209.
Rebecca Lucas is the executive director of Literacy Volunteers of Monmouth County.
Two River Moment
Ice boating and skating were centered on the Navesink River on this cold winter’s day during what is believed to be the late 1940s. This photo was taken from the area of Wharf Avenue in Red Bank with Monmouth Boat Club on the far left.