ANIMALS TAKE HOLIDAYS?
You once wrote a column in which you said that every human profession
(except being a lawyer) and everything humans do (except praying) has
an analogue in the animal kingdom. Considering humans, at least Americans,
take a lot of holidays and vacations, do animals do something comparable?
I may have overstated the case a bit with those analogies, but it is
nonetheless true that we mimic animals in many ways. And I doubt if
anyone would argue about the two exceptions I noted. As far as taking
time off from work, in the temperate zones most animals, as well as
plants, might be considered to spend the majority of their time on holiday.
have to do is look at a hardwood forest during winter to see that most
trees have dropped their leaves and are just waiting for the days to
lengthen and warm up before they start working at their day job of producing
chlorophyll and collecting sunlight. Some of my botanist colleagues
might challenge the notion that deciduous plants are actually taking
a long winter holiday but I think its not bad as a loose analogy.
Certainly the red oak in my backyard does nothing but stand there all
winter. Looks like a vacation to me.
autumn winds announce that winter is not far behind, birds are even
more like people: Some actually head south to warmer climes. It is safe
to say that more of our feathered friends travel from up north to Florida
each year than do human snowbirds. Tiny ruby-throated hummingbirds take
it a step farther by deciding Mexico is a better vacation spot, the
same as many U.S. and Canadian citizens. And, like people, many of them
keep on going farther south, electing to spend their winter vacation
in the Caribbean. The American golden plover, a type of wading bird,
takes winter holiday trips to the extreme by spending summers as far
north as the Arctic before traveling to the southern parts of South
America during our winter.
for most of the stay-at-home temperate zone animals, which would include
the insects, their holiday plan is simply to become dormant. Many lay
eggs in the fall that overwinter in underground burrows, in holes left
by decayed roots or beneath leaf litter, rocks or logs. I lifted a hay
bale recently to find a fat beetle larva that will probably stay inactive
until it emerges in the spring. Peeling off a piece of dead bark from
a fallen pine tree will often reveal a host of inactive native wood
roaches that are dormant during cold periods, again loosely analogous
to a winter vacation.
dormancy is rampant among reptiles, although the approaches taken vary
from group to group. Some aquatic turtles, especially the common sliders,
can remain under the banks of lakes or rivers for days at a time during
extreme cold spells. But on a sunny day when the air temperature has
warmed a bit, seeing a slider turtle basking on a log in winter is not
unusual. In either case, turtles dont do much during winter in
most of North America. Most snakes and lizards likewise remain inactive
during cold spells, and almost anywhere north of Florida simply take
the winter off. Its not the kind of vacation most people are looking
for, as a reptiles metabolism decreases under cold conditions
so that they can go long periods without eating or drinking. Nonetheless,
they take it easy and do not work for a good part of the year.
to deciduous trees and shrubs, insects, and reptiles, most warm-blooded
mammals like ourselves remain active all winter in a constant search
for food. A few, however, like black bears, have managed to put the
winter holiday season into proper perspective. They find a cozy hollow
tree or cave in which to spend the long, cold nights. Sounds to me like
a great winter vacation.
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