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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

White After Labor Day

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As wintry white snow replaces the Arboretum’s autumnal hues, many of its residents follow suit. As an adaptation to protect against predators, select animals’ coats whiten to camouflage with their snowy habitat.

The snowshoe hare is one of the most drastic examples of seasonal modification, changing color twice a year. Its fur is a dull brown color in the summer, but in the winter, a pure white coat develops. The hare’s molting is triggered by changes in the amount of daylight, rather than climactic conditions. With recent weather variation, these snowshoe hares have molted too early, making them easier targets for predators, including lynxes, foxes, and birds of prey.

Some color changes have more complex consequences. White-tail deer, for example, have very thin, reddish coats in the summer that allow them to stay cool in the Minnesota heat, containing only short guard hairs. When late fall and winter roll around they take only a few weeks to molt and shed their thin summer coat into a thicker, dual-layer coat that provides much-needed insulation. The winter coat’s outer layer is made up of hollow, longer guard hairs for added warmth, while the inner layer is made up of thin but incredibly dense fur. This gray-brown coat also provides camouflage for the whitetail deer.

Weasels in Minnesota follow suit, their brown coats turning white with photoperiod changes starting in the fall. Their winter coat is, similar to the deer, much denser for added insulation. Both deer and weasel colorations vary based on their location as well as the season, resulting in darker coats in forest habitats.

Keep an eye out for these winter coloration changes in the Arboretum animals!

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