The lighter the deer, the harder the year.

I just finished reading an excellent book by Edward Kanze- Over the Mountain and Home Again: Journeys of an Adirondack Naturalist. It is a collection of his essays and they are extemely well written. In one of the articles he cites interesting research on the thermodynamics of changing color coats in winter animals. The fact that snowshoe rabbits, ermines, long tail weasels, ptarmigans change from brown to white may not be so much due to camouflage, but that white hair/feathers don’t contain the pigment melanin. Removing melamin creates empty space within the hair or barbule – thus creating insulating air space.

Some years ago Kathryn & I had been talking with my Mom about the upcoming winter and she pulled out one of those folklore statements about squirrels and nuts or the number of stripes on the caterpillars and it’s relationship to the upcoming winter season. Kathryn & I decided we needed to start our own folklore statement and came up with “The lighter the deer, the harder the year” or “The lighter the doe, the deeper the snow” – I forget which rendition we were promoting at the time. While white tail deer don’t change coat color they do transition to a coarse grey winter coat, with less pigmentation than their summer coats. Our supposed urban myth statement had a basis in fact! So spread our myth along and BTW read Kanze’s book. It is excellent.

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