Why is the Fox face down in the Snow?
By Sam Nunes, Environmental Educator
February has come and we are officially in the middle of winter. While we’re going crazy relying on groundhogs for global weather predictions, it may seem that some animals are going crazy jumping face first into the snow. Is there a reason for it? Or are these predators just finding a way to entertain themselves until spring?
Before I explain the fox’s behavior, let me explain what’s happening underneath the snow. The space between the snow and the ground is called the subnivean layer which is important habitat for rodents. In this layer, the humid climate stays at a constant 32 degrees, protecting the critters from the harsh cold. They also find food resources from plants and insects hidden in the ground and leaves. The snow even acts as a cover which protects the rodents from being easily spotted by predators against a bright white background.
Predators need to find another way to capture their prey who may be hidden under the snow. Some species like the ermine, who are related to weasels, are small enough to fit through the tunnels and channels created by the smaller rodents, but species like fox and owls rely on excellent hearing skills to find their meals. A fox is able to hear a mouse scurrying under 2-3 feet of snow! Once a mouse has been detected, the fox leaps into the air to gain enough momentum to dive down into the snow head first and capture their prey.
This is an excellent example of superb senses and adaptation to changing environments. But it definitely seems silly to us watching from a far!
Holland, Mary. Naturally Curious . North Pomfret: Trafalgar Square Books, 2010.