As Fall closes in on us all the animals in the park are preparing for the winter. For some like the Yellow-bellied Marmot this means gathering all the grass that it can stuff in its burrow. If you’re a buffalo not only do you stuff your big fat face with all the grass and foliage that you can, you also grow a thick mat of hair all over your body and especially on your face. This will allow you to push that face into the snow over and over again looking for that old frozen grass and not freeze your nostrils off.
Birds for the most part, being infinitely smarter than other animals just bail as soon they notice the cold and head for places that are warm. Miami, Rio, South Texas. They don’t bother with all that extra feeding. It’s hard to fly if you’re a 15 lb. Bluebird, so they opt for dining lightly on the trip south.We could go on and on about all the idiosyncrasies of the different animals preparing for winter but you all have cable, you watch the Animal Planet so you’re pretty aware of all the preparations they make.
What you may not know however is the huge amount of prep and practice that goes into the bears preparation for wintering over in Yellowstone. Especially grizzlies. Yes, you know about going in the cave, sleeping, then doing that some more until winters over and it’s safe to come out. But what you don’t know is how difficult it is for a naturally active grizzly bear to just go into that cave and go to sleep and stay that way for like six months or more sometimes.
He’s just had a very full summer of dashing around eating Elk calves, tearing the lids off of garbage cans, biting the occasional tourist, fighting with other grizzly bears, thinking bear thoughts, leaving bear tracks along the lake’s edge for tourists to find so they can see how big he is, having to deal with those pesky wolves, getting the occasional ear tag for some infraction or other. It’s a lot of work being a grizzly and along about November or even late October they have to go to bed again. Except they’re really amped. They are pumped up from the busy summer and sleep is the last thing on their minds.
They’re thinking about all the cool stuff they got away with this summer, pulling the door off that camping trailer, hooking up with that hot little female, running off before the rangers could shoot it with those rubber bullets. There’s no way it’s going to sleep.
But sleep it must. They can’t be up and goofing around during the winter, that’s not how this whole bear thing works. It’s designed for the bear to sleep for the winter or else everything just goes all wonky and we can’t have that. After an exhaustive study to see how these grizzly bears handle this problem it was found that they have developed a pretty inventive solution to it. They practice sleeping. That’s it. Just practice. Every chance they get, like after a great big meal of freshly killed buffalo for instance, they just crap out along side the carcass and sleep for as long as they can. That’s what this guy in the picture above is doing. You can’t see the carcass because he’s sprawled on top of it to keep the magpies and ravens from getting it. In a while he’ll wake up and eat some more, then go back to sleep again and will repeat this maneuver until he’s got the ability to got to sleep at the drop of a shinbone. This repetition of eating and sleeping gets his weight up to about eight hundred plus pounds or so, kind of like when we eat that Family size, Papa’s Favorite Pizza from Papa Murphy’s with extra red sauce and cheese at 2:30 in the morning and wake up later unable to fit our shoes on.
This is how they get all the sleep experience they require to stay asleep for months. This is also the time they perfect their dreaming skills. To see what they dream about check out this previous post http://www.bigshotsnow.com/2014/11/09/ and it will tell you all you need to know about Bear dreams. It won’t be long now before all that practice will be put to good use. The leaves will fall, the winds turn cold, and the long trek up the mountain to enter the cave he has used for the last six years will begin. Fortunately the bear has prepared himself well and as soon as he gets settled in and gets all turned around just right with his nose pointed toward the entrance, he will do that thing he does to cause him to fall asleep and that’s it. He’s in for the duration. He’ll sleep until the first trickle of melting snow runs down his back. Then he’ll be up and at it again. Nature has come full circle.