How do animals prepare themselves for the cold?
By Dwayne Rose
During the winter months of the year the temperatures tend to take a dip. Depending on how far away from the equator you are these changes in temperature can be more or less extreme.
Cells, both animal and plant have different tactics to prepare or defend themselves in the cold weather. Some of these actions or responses are done by the cells themselves, or by the way the body uses its cells.
One type of cell that’s useful in the cold weather is fat cells. Our fat cells can grow larger by absorbing fat. The fat that is absorbed is stored as energy, but also works as insulation protecting the body and cells underneath it from the cold. This is why animals that live in really cold parts of the world, like seals or whales, may have a layer of warm blubber to keep the heat inside their body. Other animals have different ways to protect themselves. For example, polar bears have translucent fur, meaning its fur is almost see-through, allowing the sunlight to pass through and warm up their dark skin.
Some animals hibernate through the Winter. Hibernation slows body functions down, putting the animal into a deep kind of sleep, even though they aren’t really sleeping. In hibernation the body temperature and heart rate drop to conserve energy. In other months the animals get their energy from food but the harsh cold in Winter can make it very difficult for organisms to survive- even food sources!
As long as the body has enough blood flow, providing cells with enough oxygen and nutrients, the body can survive. In a state of hibernation the body is doing barely anything, conserving enough energy to stay alive during the Winter months. Lots of animals will prepare for the winter, by eating loads and loads of food, fattening themselves up by storing it in their fats cells, so that when they are hibernating they can use that fat as a source of energy.
Those are ways some animal cells prepare for the cold, some plant cells having their own ways of dealing with the cold. Some species of Christmas tree will turn themselves into a glass like substance to battle against the cold. This glass like crystal structure is made of sugars, proteins and water, and stiffens the body of the tree, meaning the molecules can’t move around or react protecting them from cold induced reactions. The process of turning into this glass-like substance also helps push the water out of the cell, so that it doesn’t expand while freezing causing the cell to burst. While in this state these trees can survive temperatures below -60 degrees Celsius.
Low temperatures can have serious effects on cells, including their cell membrane. As the temperature decreases, the cell membrane becomes more and more rigid and makes it more difficult for molecules to enter the cell. This can affect everything we need to enter the cell- even oxygen or glucose! So it is important that not just cells but organisms in general are protected from the cold, and keeping to the optimum temperature that they are suited to. These are just some of the ways different animals and plants protect themselves from the problems that the cold may bring.