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Keeping Warm

It's about 5 am and I awake to a movement beneath the covers. It's our cat, Mr. Bucky, nosing his way under the covers to find a warm spot where he can catch a few more minutes of sleep.

 "Well, at least ONE of us will be getting a bit more sleep," I grumbled to myself as I got up to make the coffee.

Later that morning I stepped outside to collect the paper and observed the frost on the steps. That got me curious – I wondered how the coyotes were handling the cold weather. I sometimes hear a pack of them vocalizing at night in the nearby dry wash.

I know enough about mammals to know their fur had something to do with it, but I wanted to be able to explain the details. Here's what I discovered.

There are three types of hair on a coyote: guard hairs, whiskers and underhair. We all have a good idea what whiskers look like. Whiskers are sensitive to touch and are used to gather information about their surroundings. As an analogy, think about the curb feelers some people install on their cars.

Image
A watchful Coyote. Note the multi-colored coat, useful for blending in with the environment when he chooses to hide.

Guard hairs are the thicker, coarse hairs that serve as the outermost coating. They create a protective layer for underhair, much like a baby's bib protects the fancy new outfit Grandma bought at Christmas for her little darling. Because guard hairs vary in color, they also provide camouflage.

But it's the underhair that keeps the coyote warm. Their underhair is short and dense and it varies with elevation – it's thicker at higher (and presumably colder) elevations. As an analogy, think of a down-filled comforter. Now doesn't that make you feel warm and cozy? Yawn….it makes me want to go back to bed.

 

Wendy Langhans

Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority

Keeping Warm

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