Our California king snake brumates in the winter months. Visitors to the museum this time of the year may be disappointed that Prometheus is not moving around under the sun lamp in front of the grassland diorama.

Brumation is a reptile's way of hibernation.

He spends his time coiled up in his glass-fronted burrow -- the coldest part of the display. We can usually see his beautiful thick brown bands and alternating creamy white stripes pressed against the glass. He doesn't eat and he doesn't come up for months. This is the behavior of a wild snake -- an adaptation to survive through the winter.

As we don our layers on cold days, and go into our warm homes, take some time to observe, question, and speculate how the wild species around us survive the cold.

There are some fascinating strategies in the natural world.

One of my favorite adaptations to cold is the ice cube frog. Some frogs, including our local Pacific chorus frog, can tolerate a frozen state. Sheltered under debris, in crevices or burrows through the cold season, they can freeze solid. Even the heart stops. With the first warm rains, they thaw out, find their heartbeat and head to a pond to begin their breeding calls.

Large mammals -- mountain lions, bobcats, coyotes and foxes -- rely on thicker winter fur and fat reserves to stay warm, while many small mammals such as our local ground squirrels and bats go into hibernation or a daily torpor.


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This involves lowering body temperature and metabolic rate, and slowing breathing to conserve energy.

Deer have an interesting winter adaptation to respond to a change in their diet from grasses and leaves to twigs and bark. They produce and cultivate different digestive enzymes and bacteria for these winter months.

Insects overwinter in different stages -- eggs, larvae, pupae, or as adults -- dependent on the species. Our local monarchs cluster in eucalyptus and cypress through the winter months as adult butterflies.

Grasshoppers will burry their eggs deep underground, whereas many flies overwinter as pupae. Some insects, such as the wooly bear moth caterpillar, avoid freezing by creating a chemical similar to car anti-freeze in their tissues that prevents ice forming.

Warm up in museum this winter and connect with many of our regional native animals. Get involved in the new year.

We're hosting our winter Docent Training Jan. 7-14. Learn local natural history and share that knowledge with others. For details, go to santacruzmuseums.org or call 420-6115.

Keep active, stay warm and we will survive.

Deborah McArthur is the education manager at the Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History, a nonprofit organization that provides education programs to school groups and the public. Visit www.santacruzmuseums.org.