Winter Wildlife Adapting to Cold Temperatures in Zion National Park – St. George News

St. George – Amid winter in Zion National Park, the area’s animals change up their routines.

A fox in Zion National Park, Springdale, Utah, unspecified date | Photo courtesy of the National Park Service, St. George News

“The animals use special adaptations to deal with the lower temperatures,” park spokesman Jonathan Schaefer told St. George News.

Some animals hibernate and some reptiles bromate. Fermentation is similar to hibernation, Shaffer said, but it differs because reptiles rely primarily on external heat sources to regulate their body temperature.

He said bromeliads start in late fall. They will need to drink water throughout the winter, but will not eat during the colder months. He said the fermentation was caused by the cold weather and the lack of daylight hours, similar to hibernation.

Hibernation involves lowering body temperature, said Janice Stroud-Settles, who serves as wildlife program director at Zion National Park.

“Since reptiles and amphibians are cold-blooded, they cannot lower their body temperature, so their winter sleep is called fermentation,” Stroud-Settles said in an email to St. George News. “Wine is a lot like hibernation but it doesn’t involve lowering your body temperature.”

Examples of hibernating mammals are bats and bears. Only one species of bird, the common poor one, is known to truly hibernate. Other bird species, such as hummingbirds, will enter short periods of hibernation to conserve energy, Stroud-Settles said. All species of reptiles and amphibians in the southern Utah area feed since the winter climate is too cold for them to be constantly active.

Big lamb in Zion National Park, Springdale, Utah, December 6, 2021 | Photo by Stephanie DeGraw, St. George News

The park is home to different species of lizards with unique adaptations and curious behaviour. Stroud-Settles suggests that visitors look for smaller lizards alongside Zion’s trails early in the morning. Later in the day, the larger crawlers emerge. Some of the lizards in Zion National Park include:

  • The plateau lizard has distinctive blue spots along its belly.
  • The large short-horned lizard has sharp horns/scales.
  • The western whiptail lizard has a long, graceful physique and a rusty orange coloration on the sides of its back.
  • The Great Basin lizard has a collar with a black collar-like marking.

Other species are adapted to leave Zion National Park during the winter months. Schaffer said bats and birds move between summer and winter habitats. Some seek more abundant food sources in warmer locations, others seek ideal habitats to hibernate in the winter or raise young in the summer.

During December, January and February, he said, the park experiences cold temperatures, rain and snow.

According to the park’s website, temperatures range from 50 degrees Fahrenheit during the day to lows below zero at night during the winter. Most of Zion Canyon’s annual precipitation falls between December and March. Although the roads are plowed, some trails may be closed due to the danger of snowfall. After winter storms, snow accumulates at higher elevations. Icy conditions may exist on trails, particularly in areas that remain in shade.

Guards recommend that visitors wear shoe traction devices, Shafer said, to reduce the risk of slipping. The Narrows will be chilly, and recommend a dry suit to walk safely.

Valley tree frog in Zion National Park, Springdale, Utah, unspecified date | Photo courtesy of the National Park Service, St. George News

During the winter, visitors can access the park by car or bus, Shafer said.

Park operations during the winter

Park shuttles will only run during the holidays, such as the week between Christmas and New Year’s. Access to the top of Kolob Terrace Road, including Lava Point, is closed during the winter. Access to Kolob Canyons is closed regularly in inclement weather.

Driving conditions can be very poor during a storm, but the roads are plowed and maintained. Also, South Campground is closed. The Museum of Human History remains closed.

Schafer added that the Garden movie can be watched for free online at all times of the year. And the park’s webcam pans towards one of its most iconic views, the Temples and Towers of the Maiden.

“While it’s cold outside, enjoy Zion from the comfort of your own home by visiting the garden’s website,” said Shafer.

To learn about reptiles, birds and mammalsSeasons in Zion, visit exhibits such as Feathered Treasures: Bird Collections at Zion National Park, or the Art Collections, Archives, and other historical and cultural collections online.

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