The sleeping underworld

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Here’s an amazing fact for those of you who love nature and numbers: one isolated wetland can produce three tons of amphibians. I read this statement while doing some background research for a herpetology lesson, and though it’s a bit vague (just how large a wetland are we talking about?) suffice it to say there’s more to wetlands than meets the eye.

Take the Arboretum’s wetland in January. Ice coats the water’s surface, and spent cattails rustle sadly, their sparse remaining seeds no match for wintry winds. Few children venture to peek over the side of the observation deck: without the allure of spring’s tadpoles, turtles, and frogs, the wetland is less than lively.

But there is life in the wetland, perhaps even three tons of it! All winter long, as our footsteps echo busily across the bridge, a whole world slumbers beneath the icy water. Or brumates, to be more exact.

Brumation is a term used for the hibernation-like state that cold-blooded animals enter during very cold weather. Many reptiles and amphibians overwinter under logs or deep in the mud, slowing down their metabolic processes to a near death-like state. Certain species, such as spring peepers and wood frogs, can actually freeze their bodies, becoming active again only with the spring thaw. (This brings to mind a friend’s science experiment involving a freezer, several frogs, and one extremely surprised mother, but that’s a story for another day.)

With recent temperatures at an all-time low thanks to the dreaded polar vortex, the idea of sleeping through winter has definite appeal. Since that isn’t really an option, I recommend this antidote to winter blues: bundle up, head to Adkins, and take a moment to pause on the entrance bridge. There’s a whole world beneath you, a world within a world, just waiting for the kiss of spring to waken.

by Jenny Houghton
Youth Program Coordinator

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