Today marks the first official day of winter. Those of us in the Great Lakes region are no stranger to the season, and while we were busy preparing for the challenges of the snow, ice and plummeting temperatures, the world outside our doors was already a few steps ahead.

As we ready our heavy-duty shovel and cozy garments, Great Lakes plants and animals have their own response to the tough winters. Trees have to shed their leaves—a vital action for trees to survive the harsh winters associated with the Great Lakes region. Stems, twigs and buds can all survive in the extreme cold of winter while the tender leaf tissues can easily freeze.

While we adapt to winters by piling on warmer clothing and engaging in habitual snow removal, Great Lakes plants and animals must adapt to endure extreme temperatures and plentiful snow. There are some areas in the region that regularly experience chilling temperatures below 0 degrees Fahrenheit, with over 200 inches of snowfall each year. In the Great Lakes region, we have things like “snowbelts” and “lake-effect snow” due to the massive collection of fresh surface water at our front door.

Winter is harsh for local wildlife—there’s no arguing that—but it can also be beautiful and fascinating to see how species survive such conditions. So, how does our local wildlife manage to survive in the depths of winter? We’ll explore this question in a January blog series profiling different species, some of which can be found right here at Shedd Aquarium. What you’ll learn about local turtles, fish and mammals may surprise you!

—Posted by Sam Bugg, manager of great lakes public outreach