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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Arb Notes: It’s time to snuggle up with a friend


The animals well knew that Bader, having eaten a hearty breakfast, had retired to his study and settled himself in an arm-chair with his legs up on another and a red cotton handkerchief over his  face, and was being ‘busy’ in the usual way at this time of year.’

It is winter and we all know what that means at Carleton: short grey days, biting cold, and lots of snow and ice. Those of us who live in the complex are thanking our lucky stars and those of us who don’t are, like badger, telling our friends that we are really ‘busy’ and so cannot walk to the other side of campus to visit them. But what are all our neighbors in the Arb up to these days? And what kind of company do they keep?

As Kenneth Grahame must have known, neither moles, badgers, nor muskrats truly hibernate during the winter. Moles cannot hibernate because they cannot store fat. Instead, they tunnel deeper underground where they feed off of roots and earthworms. Badgers may remain in their sets for extended periods of time in the most severe winter weather, but it has not been proven that their heartbeats ever slow for true hibernation. Likewise, although muskrats spend a great deal of time in their waterside lodges in the winter, they do not hibernate. They make entrances below where the water freezes so that they can still exit into the water to forage for food. So that they can forge on land as well, they chew through the ice, creating holes, for which they even build little trap doors (called “push ups”) out of cattails, grasses and mud. Beavers’ winter habits are much like the muskrats. Beavers are very social animals and since beaver young will stay with their parents for two years, they generally pass the winter months with other beavers.

In the winter there are many advantages to company. Deer mice nest together to conserve energy in the winter, sometimes using birds’ nests, tree cavities, or even bluebird nest boxes. In an adaptation of the children’s picture book The Mitten, Myles Bakke, the former Arb Manager, recently found an abandoned glove in which five deer mice had made their home. Deer also tend to stick together (or “yard”) in the winter around areas of abundant food. This gives them the advantage of easier movement because lots of deer traffic packs down the snow more and it also increases the number of eyes alert for predators. So I guess the cheesy moral of this story is that, while it may be cold and dreary out, don’t forget that friendship can be an invaluable winter survival skill!

Mira Alecci ‘11 is a member of the Cole Student Naturalists.

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