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University of Minnesota Extension

12 weeks of winter: Find some winter camouflage

Starting to get a little cabin fever this winter? We've got a list of activities to keep you busy for the rest of Minnesota's longest season! Each week we will share a new nature activity for you to try in order to beat the cold and enjoy the great outdoors.

Make sure you bundle up, and use your best judgment on those super chilly days—when the temps dip dangerously low, consider indoor nature activities instead. 

A white weasel in the snow

The snow flies and some critters turn white. Why does this happen? It seems that if keeping the animal hidden in the snow was the reason for this coloration, more snow-dwelling critters would be white. While white coats can provide camouflage in a snowy landscape, scientists believe that it also has a more practical basis. There is a theory that a light-colored coat may keep animals warm. With less pigment in the hair shaft, there is room for more air, which traps body heat and provides insulation to the animal. 

In Minnesota you can find many small mammals that grow white winter coats, also known as a leucistic phase. Three weasel species, including the short-tailed weasel (Mustela erminea), the long-tailed weasel (Mustela renata), and the very rare least weasel (Mustela rixosa) turn white. Snowshoe hares (Lepus americanus) don a new white coat in the winter. White-tailed jackrabbits (Lepus townsendii) also turn white in the winter, and are incidentally the largest species of rabbit in Minnesota. And although snowy owls don’t turn color in the winter—they are always white—they are only present in Minnesota in the winter. Minnesota is their southern migration stop! 

You’ve been practicing your tracking skills for weeks now, so we think you’re up to the challenge of finding a camouflaged animal. Bundle up, bring your camera and look for some of these sneaky snow-lovers!

Amy Rager is an Extension educator based in Morris, MN, and oversees the Minnesota Master Naturalist program.

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