Jan 28, 2011

Winter World

the ingenuity of animal survival
by Bernd Heinrich

This was the perfect read to complement the white, snowy world outside my window. Winter World is all about what animals do to survive cold weather, based on Heinrich's own curiosity and observations about the natural world. Although it examines the strategies of many different creatures, from small insects to various members of the squirrel family, bats, beavers, frogs and bears, there is a common thread running through all Heinrich's investigations as he tries to solve the mystery of how kinglets (a bird smaller than a chickadee) manage to survive cold winter nights in northern latitudes (he lives in Maine). This book is just jam-packed with beautiful nature writing and compelling facts. Things like why some animals spend the winter scurrying around in a constant search for food, while others are comatose for months at a time in a hibernating torpor (and what, exactly hibernation is). Some animals hoard food, others lay up fat stores in their bodies, still others simply suspend all body functions, to any scientific examination dead to the world (no heartbeat, sign of breathing, etc.) Did you know that some frogs can survive having half the water in their bodies turn to solid ice? That bears go the whole winter without drinking or urinating? that turtles live the winter in frozen-over ponds because they can absorb oxygen through their skin?

It's the kind of book that got me so enthralled I read it in all of two days. I kept reading passages aloud to my husband: "listen to this!" and even though he's not intrigued by how animals do things like I am, he found interesting things like how the study of animal survival methods can impact human medicine. For example, unraveling the secrets of bear hibernation could help with the treatment of diabetes or patients who suffer oxygen-depletion to the brain (like stroke victims). It's just amazing. Learning about all the ingenious ways animals endure the cold and come out alive and well in springtime was just fascinating. Makes us humans with our need for sweaters and furnaces seem fragile beings indeed, compared to all the small creatures that simply weather the elements, each in their own way.

Rating: 5/5 ........ 357 pages, 2003


  1. I so wish I could hibernate. I've been an insomniac most of my adult life. I rarely sleep more than six hours and long to, especially in the winter.

    This does sound like a fascinating read.

  2. I always look at those squirrels outside my window romping around and wonder how on earth they do it. I like the sound of this one. I need to read more nature books--I read a number of nature essays last year and really enjoyed them.

  3. I have not read any Heinrch. I have heard about him and actually own this book that your younger sister has borrowed and read. I'm very pleased to see you gave it a 5/5.

  4. James- Funny, at one point the author himself talks about what it would be like if humans could hibernate...

    Danielle- You might be surprised to find that each kind of squirrel gets through the winter in a different fashion. I thought they all hid nuts but no!

    Mom- I remember seeing it at your house! I was so tempted to ask if I could borrow it but then worried how I'd get it back to you.

    He's one of my favorite nature writers right now.

  5. You can always borrow my books. If they don't come back by the time I'm ready to read them I'll get them from the library.

  6. This sounds amazing. To the wishlist it goes.


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