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What do animals in winter?

  • France
  • 14.2.2018

1In winter, you can observe a drop off in animal activity, whether they be mammals, reptiles, insects or even fish. However, not all animals behave the same way in the face of winter’s harshness. So what do they do?

To confront the cold, animals adapt different behaviours depending on either they stay where they are and therefore have to find a way to fight the cold, or alternatively leave and find a warmer place (the latter is done by some birds, insects, butterflies and fish).

When animals stay where they are, they must prepare themselves to fight the cold. They do so in three different ways:

• Morphological adaptation;
• Physiological adaptation;
• Behavioural adaptation.

Whilst some only adapt morphologically, others adapt to winter in all three ways. Each species has its own trick.

Adaptation

2Some animals continue to move around in winter, living almost normally. Almost, because in reality they do adapt to lower temperatures and a shortage of food.

Some animals opt for morphological adaptation, which means modifying their body, such as the fox, which develops a “winter coat”. You see this in some mammals but also in certain birds, who fluff up their plumage. Other animals, such as the hare and stoat, go even further in modifying their coat: they turn white in winter to camouflage them in the snowy landscape and not be seen by predators.

4Other animals, such as the great tit, change their behaviour and feeding habits. In fact, for the majority of the year the great tit eats insects, but during the winter it struggles to find insects and therefore eats seeds instead. As for the red squirrel, it simply builds up reserves of food throughout the year in preparation for winter, then once winter is here it continues to live normally. Only in severe cold, which can be fatal, will it take shelter until the temperature is milder. In fact, January-February is one of the breeding seasons for red squirrels.
You will also see some animals change physiologically, meaning that they change how their body works: this is the case of animals that hibernate or spend winter sheltering.

Hibernation

3When the winter cold arrives, some animals adopt a behaviour called torpor: they fall into a very deep sleep, in a shelter, and only rarely wake up to get something from their food reserves that they built up prior to hibernating. When an animal hibernates, there is a drop in:

• Oxygen consumption;
• Respiratory rate;
• Heart rate (from 350 to 3 beats per minute for the ground squirrel, and from 500 to 5 for the garden dormouse);
• Blood flow (there is a special flow for the brain, heart and fatty tissue);
• Growth hormones.

Here are just some of the animals that hibernate: hedgehogs, garden dormice, bats, frogs, lizards, grass snakes…

Beware that some animals do not hibernate but do spend winter sheltering. Famously the bear, that there is no risk of finding in our garden, spends winter sheltering, rather than hibernating.

Winter sheltering (semi-hibernation)

When you think of hibernation you think of bears. However, that is wrong. In no way is the bear in a state of torpor, as it does not sleep deeply, far from it. The bear simply slows its activity; so, do not hang around near a bear, thinking it is hibernating, stay far away. An animal that does semi-hibernate and that you have more chance of coming across than a bear is the badger! You also see this drop in activity in some insects, such as bees, who rest next to each other to maintain their temperature at 35°C and eat the honey that they have stored (which is why it is important to leave it there).

And where are the insects in all of this?

Unfortunately, the majority of insects die in winter. This is the case with the magnificent dragonflies and grasshoppers. But some of them can semi-hibernate, even if all those who do don’t survive. Alongside bees, this also includes firebugs, ladybirds, earwigs, crickets and lacewings.

Malvina Beauclair

The benefits of olive oil

  • France
  • 7.12.2017

The olive tree is widespread in the south of France but can acclimatize itself pretty much anywhere. Although it is not common in our gardens due to its large size, we all use olive oil. We often add it to our vegetables; whether it be on salad, in food preparation, cooking or even in cosmetics. But did you know that as well as tasting good, olive oil is also good for you? In this article you will discover the benefits of olive oil, but don't forget that – as with everything – you shouldn't go overboard with it.

oliveOlive oil is good for our health
First of all, if you aren't sure which olive oil to pick, it is best to choose cold-pressed, bio, extra-virgin olive oil. Above all, avoid refined and heated oils which are cancerogenic and harmful to health.

Olive oil contains oleic acid (56-83%), an acid which can reduce the highest cause of death: cardio-vascular disease.

It also contains as much linoleic acid (Omega 6) as breast milk; so you could put a spoonful of olive oil in your children's soup. Omegas 3 and 6 are essential fatty acids that we can't produce ourselves and that we can only get from our food.

However, beware of taking too much, as Omega 6 must always be balanced with Omega 3, which we often get too little of. You can find Omega 3 in fatty fish and certain fibres (flax, walnut, rapeseed, soya etc.)

What's more, olive oil has anti-oxidant properties (vitamins E, C and polyphenols) that prevent cancer, as these properties prevent the ageing of cells.

If you heat the oil, beware that it becomes cancerogenic at temperatures of more than 210c; so if your oil smokes, you must discard it.

Olive oil vs cow's milk
When we are cooking and want to add fat, we generally use butter from cow's milk, or oil. Although they are not the same from a taste perspective, and their use varies by region and cooking habits, you should know that olive oil is better for your health than butter.

Olive oil only contains 14% saturated fat, which is a lot less than margarine, which is around 40%, and butter, which contains 55%. Olive oil is the most easily digested fat: you can even use it instead of butter on your toast in the morning, if you place it in the freezer the night before.

In addition to being the most digestible, it has as much calcium as cow's milk, at 120mg per 100g; however, vegetable calcium is 75% absorbed by the digestive tract, as opposed to only 30% for animal calcium.

oliveOlive tree flowers
Only one flower in 20 becomes an olive. Olive tree flowers can also be used for their energy: dried and in herbal tea. They are anti-cancerogenic, nourish the skin, can be used as a gentle laxative, for rheumatisms and are good for the brain.

Malvina Beauclair
Jardin Familial de France no. 502/2017

Give them a safe shelter to pass the winter!
The profile of a common garden insect: the ladybird

  • France
  • 10.11.2017

Well known amongst gardeners, it comes back every spring to feast on the aphids that parasitize our runner beans, tomatoes and even our broad beans. Ladybirds are familiar, but how much do we really know about them?

CoccinelleFor example, did you know that this insect from the Coleoptera family lays clusters of around a hundred dark yellow eggs on the backs of leaves? Larvae are born from them, which shed their skin several times and – about 20 days later – turn into what is called an imago, which is its final form. It lives for around a year, perhaps more if those born in late spring can manage to hide somewhere to protect them from winter.

Ladybirds are essentially carnivorous. Even as larvae, their main menu is aphids, which they consume at a rate of around 100 a day. As an adult, the creature is just as voracious and is estimated to consume around 150 aphids a day but, real gastronomes, they don't turn their noses up at acarids and cochineals. So, they are true gardeners' helpers. Therefore it is a big mistake to use chemicals to get rid of aphids, as you will also get rid of the ladybirds. The consequence of this, as counter effect i.e. the lacking of ladybirds is that you will then never be able to stop using chemicals. It is better to let nature do its work and support having these insects in our gardens. You can do this by making them shelters made of twigs, small heaps of straw or dead leaves, a pile of flat stones or even to the extreme by installing "insect houses" sold in garden centres, which aren't deep enough to be efficient and are always more for aesthetic purposes (if you want to make one, it is better to use several planks of wood spaced 5mm apart). The important thing is that they can find a safe shelter to pass the winter; sheltered from frost, heavy rain and birds that hunt them. And if they find a shelter in your garden shed or garage, don't move them: they are inoffensive and will be ready to reproduce at the start of spring. They are insurance for a year without aphids.

It is generally thought that ladybirds are that small red insect with 7 black dots that used to be called "God's [little] cow". In fact, what is little known is that there are many types of ladybird: red, yellow, black, with two dots, 12, 17, and even 24 dots.

CoccinelleIn around 1870 there were 36 species in Europe but pesticides, the loss of hedgerows, and intensive farming have meant that many of them have disappeared. In 1960 there were only 16 species. Today many are extinct. A fatal blow to the surviving species in the 1980s was the introduction of the Asian ladybird, an exotic species bred and sold to fight aphids in an environmentally-friendly (!) way. There are many types in an array of colours, but not always easy to distinguish from their European cousins. In fact, they are bigger, more voracious and even more prolific than our local species; they quickly acclimatised and made a large number of our traditional species disappear. They became the most widespread species of ladybird here; with an annoying tendency to invade our houses at the start of winter.

A particular peculiarity about the Asian ladybird: it bites! It doesn't do any harm, as the skin on our fingers is too thick for its little mandibles. But it's a surprise!

The Asian ladybird lives up to its name as the "aphid ogre"! But did our European species have really to pay the price of this invasion and see a shortage happen?

This is a question that concerns specialists and entomologists. For the majority of gardeners, a ladybird is a ladybird, and given that it gets rid of our aphids, we aren't too bothered about where it comes from.

Alain Redon
Jardin Familial de France no. 502/2017

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