We aren’t the only ones taking out our (sometimes ugly) Christmas sweaters every year.
Feathers don’t just allow waterfowl to fly – they provide insulation, flotation, camouflage, and even a flash of color to attract mates. Even though feathers are remarkably resilient, they do wear out over time. Waterfowl replace their old plumage with new feathers at least once a year during a process known as molting.
Unlike most birds, waterfowl undergo a “simultaneous wing molt” meaning they lose all their primary feathers at once. This process renders them flightless for 20 to 40 days. Don’t worry though, waterfowl are well adapted to survive without their “sweaters” during this flightless period and will select wetland habitats providing ample food, shelter, and safety.
Snakes periodically shed their skin for several reasons, including to grow. Unlike human skin, which grows as we grow, snakes reach a point where, like a sweater run through the dryer, their skin is too small. Snakes will swim or rub against rough objects to help loosen the old skin and make it easier to slither out. Snakeskin sheds in mostly one piece, whereas people continuously shed skin cells over time.
FUN FACT: Biologists use snake “sweaters” when performing occupancy surveys. For example, to see if an eastern indigo snake is inhabiting an area, biologists will visually search for the snake. Finding a snake shed counts just like finding the real snake would!
FUN FACT: Some bird species use snake “sweaters” when building their nests, including Carolina Wrens, Great Crested Flycatchers, and Blue Grosbeaks.
There are no wolves in Georgia, but coyote “sweaters” sure can throw people for a loop! In the winter, their fur is longer, fuller, and even lighter in color. This thick fur keeps coyotes warm throughout the winter months and makes coyotes appear much larger than usual.
FUN FACT: If you think you’ve caught a wolf on your game camera, check for a black tip at the end of the tail. Most coyotes have one and can be easily distinguished from a dog or wolf.
Stags in the Snow
Like our fluffy coyotes, deer also need “sweaters” to insulate themselves through the winter. During the fall, white tailed deer gradually trade their summer coat for longer, thicker, darker hairs. This winter “sweater” absorbs more sunlight and traps more body heat, providing an extra layer of protection for the stags in the snow.
FUN FACT: Deer also have oil-producing glands in their skin that help make their “sweater” waterproof, which is especially valuable in the snow.
Crayfish Eat Sweaters
Unlike the other critters on this list, crayfish tend to eat their Christmas “sweaters.” Crayfish molt their exoskeletons a few times a year in order to grow. They eat their old exoskeleton in order to recover calcium and phosphates while growing their new “sweater.”
Weasels Wear White
Every year, three species of weasels trade their summer brown fur for a winter white “sweater!” In Georgia, you can find the long-tailed weasel throughout the state, but normally they don’t change color like their northern counterparts (but they still live here). Strangely enough, weasels have been shown to change “sweaters” regardless of the temperature or their location, which suggests that their molt may be triggered by photoperiod (the length of the day), which tends to be much shorter in northern climates.