It is difficult and strange to imagine a situation where you and your family would go into a coma in a warm, underground bedroom anytime it drops below freezing just to avoid dealing with the temperature and the snow. However, the world around us is certainly full of creatures which do exactly that. While hibernation is something most people know about on a broad level, there is a certain amount of overestimation in the actual knowledge people have.
A select number of animals which live in a seasonal wintery environment are capable of hibernating, which is the process of slowing down the metabolism to a point where the animal is able to avoid moving for weeks, if not months. The animal appears to be sleeping and has slowed its heart rate, breathing and has even dropped its body temperature to an extreme level. The neurological systems of hibernating animals, however, are just as active as the animal in a normal waking condition. In fact there are technical breaks in hibernation for the animal to sleep.
Everyone knows that bears go into hibernation but there are a number of other animals which hibernate. Groundhogs (also known as woodchucks) may go into a hibernation which can last up to 5 months. During that time, the animal goes through some intense physical changes, like its heart only beating 5 times a minute, only breathing once every 30 seconds and its body temperature falling to a mere 37 degrees Fahrenheit. Bats also go into a state similar to hibernation, known as torpor, which may last as long as the bat needs it to, anywhere from a few hours up to about 30 days.
That being said, there are a number of other animals that do not hibernate which may be assumed to hibernate. Namely, these include most cold-blooded animals, as they cannot actively regulate their body temperature. These include fish, reptiles and amphibians, although these animals do have their own tactics for dealing with the winter months. Notable warm-blooded animals which do not hibernate include opossums, racoons, moles and deer.
Mice also do not hibernate, which means they are looking for a warm place to live which also has food. Our houses have both warmth and food and any inkling of these two will attract mice through the frozen winterscape. Ensure there are no drafts by doors, windows, or other fixtures which are available to mice, which can fit through spaces as small as a penny. Also, make sure that garbage is taken out and food is stored properly to make sure mice do not find their way in.
When preparing for winter hibernation, many animals start the process of food accumulation, both eating the food as well as storing the food in certain places for the winter. Many animals create burrows underground to store food and prepare a place to hibernate. Other animals will sometimes find and commandeer some of the dens prepared by other animals. Sometimes these same animals make their way into and under our structures in order to find shelter to hibernate.
While December may be a month which is primarily known for its time of celebration for many of the world’s major religions, here at Monroe County Soil and Water Conservation District, none are more important than World Soil Day. Celebrated annually on December 5, World Soil Day was instituted by the United Nations through a process which unofficially began at the turn of the century. An international day which honors and celebrates soil was first recommended by the International Union of Soil Sciences in 2002. The Kingdom of Thailand was one of the biggest proponents of World Soil Day and through working with the Global Soil Partnership and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the 2013 FAO Conference unanimously voted to establish World Soil Day. The United Nations General Assembly heard the requests from the FAO and officalled designated December 5, 2014 as the official first World Soil Day.
Many of you may be asking why the United Nations felt as though it was necessary to enact a global day of celebration for something as ubiquitous as soil. Although soil is literally almost everywhere, is it undeniably important to the health of human beings as well as the natural world. Regarded as a “living resource”, more than a quarter of the earth’s biodiversity is found in the soil under our feet. Given this, soil has the greatest concentration of biomass. While there is such a huge amount of life within the soil, scientists have estimated that we have only discovered approximately 1% of the microorganisms that live in soil. In comparison, we have discovered an estimated 80% of the plant species. Of all the living organisms on the planet, nearly 90% either live or spend some amount of time during their lifecycle in the soil.
Without soil to host such biodiversity, it is likely that our species would have not made the important discovery of many antibiotics and other medicinal tools. Further, the existence of many of these microorganisms contribute to the overall environmental health because these extremely small creatures are able to break down some of the toxic contaminants which find their way into the earth’s soil.
The FAO of the United Nations also outlines 6 different actions which can be taken to protect and work to prevent the loss of biodiversity in soil which is happening right now.
The World Soil Day 2021 campaign “Halt soil salinization, boost soil productivity” looks to raise awareness of the problem of soil salinization. Soil salinization is the process where different salts start to accumulate in soil. This excess of water-soluble salt in the soil hinders the growth of crops because the salt limits the plants ability to take up water. There are a number of natural and anthropogenic reasons why the soil may have an overabundance of salt, including low annual rainfall, high rates of evaporation and mismanagement of the agricultural production process. For more information on salinization, visit this USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service information sheet or NRCS’ soils page.
Make sure to celebrate World Soil Day by taking a few seconds to learn more about the biodiversity, microbiology and overall importance of the soil we are all dependent on. Whether it is through the adjustment of personal actions or widespread agricultural decisions, there is a way everybody can get involved in the promotion of the globe’s largest living resource.
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