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10 Things You Didn't Know About North America Animals at ZooAmerica in Winter

ZooAmerica is open daily this winter for family-friendly fun in early 2022

As fall turns to winter each year, some North American animals like gray wolves and river otters become more active while others such as black bears enter a state of hibernation due to lack of food, cold weather or protection from predators. 

Central Pennsylvanians and those visiting Hershey, Pa., this winter can see some of these animals first-hand at ZooAmerica North American Wildlife Park and learn interesting facts about how the animals adapt to their surroundings during the colder months. 

ZooAmerica is open daily this winter and kids ages 8 and under get into ZooAmerica for FREE with the purchase of a regular or senior ticket on Saturdays and Sundays in January 2022 as part of Discovery Weekends

For those unable to visit, check out 10 facts you may not know about the winter habits of North American animals below.

1. Wild black bears can sleep for 100 days without needing to wake up.

Black bears are not true hibernators but do something called “denning,” often due to a food shortage. When they are sleeping in their winter dens, the bear’s heart rate can drop as low as eight beats per minute. Chief and Murphy, the black bears at ZooAmerica, do not den because they have access to food all year long. Although, they do tend to sleep a lot and be in slow-motion during the winter months.

2. Porcupines may use the same den for their entire life. 

Porcupines are typically solitary, but when the cold weather is very severe, they will den with others. Some dens are so well made that many different porcupines occupy them for many decades. 

3. A healthy alligator snapping turtle can survive under the ice for over 100 days.

Often, alligator snapping turtles reside under the ice during the winter. They will shut down their entire body, except for the light sensors in their eyes. When their eyes detect an increase in light and the water temperature rises, it indicates that the ice is melting and springtime is almost here. This means turtles can turn their body on again and come to the surface to breathe.

4. Many types of owls have bald feet, but snowy owls have feathers down to their toes. 

Snowy owls adapt to cold climates because they camouflage well in the snow and have thick layers of feathers to keep them warm. 

5. Not all elk need to migrate. 

In the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE), tens of thousands of elk migrate to lower elevations to find areas with less snow and more food. However, Pennsylvania does not get as much snow as the GYE, so elk in Pennsylvania can easily find food all year long. Elk also grow a thick coat of fur to keep them very warm. At ZooAmerica, Hannah and Becky love the snow and will usually lay outside when it snows instead of staying in their barn.

6. Gray wolves will curl up in a ball when it's cold and use their tail to cover their nose.

When a gray wolf exhales, the tail holds hot air and helps to warm up the nose and feet. This warmth, trapped by the tail, also helps to heat up the air that the wolf inhales. They will also lay with other members of the pack to stay warm.

7. Pronghorn herds in Wyoming have the longest land migration in the continental United States. 

Multiple pronghorn herds (of about 400 each) migrate 150 miles each way between Wyoming’s Green River Basin and Grand Teton National Park. They have migrated for three days each way for thousands of years along the federally protected route (known as “The Path of the Pronghorn”).

8. North American river otters have two layers of fur to help keep them warm in the winter. 

River otters have short, dense underfur that acts as a waterproof coat and a layer of fat underneath their skin that insulates their body in cold water. 

9. Sandhill cranes can fly about 200 miles in a single day during migration.

However, many sandhill cranes tend to stop for a few days to “fuel up.” Over 600,000 sandhill cranes stop over the Platte River in Nebraska during their migration. The Platte River is a great food source to help them stay healthy during their long flight. Fossils show that cranes have been migrating through that area for thousands, if not millions, of years. Sandhill cranes migrated through the Platte River Valley before the river formed, about 10,000-12,000 years ago!

10. Unlike many other species of parrots, thick-billed parrots do not live in the tropics. 

Thick-billed parrots live exclusively in pine forests at higher elevations (4,000-11,000 feet), which is why these birds get the nickname “Snow Parrot.”