Tunnels Through the Snow

By Amy Renfranz (dearnaturalist@gmail.com)

Article Published: Mar. 6, 2013 | Modified: Mar. 6, 2013
Tunnels Through the Snow

Many animals use the snow for protection and warmth.

Photo submitted

Last year, we moved to Banner Elk and have spent two winters here so far. Our property has a mix of woods and lawn. I have noticed humps in the snow on the lawn where some small animal has been burrowing under the snow. What makes these tunnels? –Ben N.

Beneath the snow there is a very active subnivean layer. “Subnivean” will get caught in your spellcheck, but I promise you that it is a word. It literally means “under the snow.”

Small animals tunnel through this subnivean layer to forage for food, find food caches and to shield themselves from predators. It’s also relatively warm under there. The warmth of the Earth keeps the subnivean layer at about 33 degrees Fahrenheit (plus there›s no wind).

Animals that tunnel under the snow include insects, spiders, mice, voles, chipmunks and even red squirrels.

Of course, foxes, coyotes and owls have a very well-adapted sense of hearing to locate and capture small creatures even through many inches of snow.

If you have a question concerning flora and fauna, please email (dearnaturalist@gmail.com) All of your questions will be answered. One or two will be featured next week. See you on the trails!

Amy Renfranz is an interpretive park guide on the Blue Ridge Parkway. She is a certified naturalist through the Yellowstone Institute and a certified environmental educator in the state of North Carolina. Her comments are made independently and do not reflect the views of the National Park Service.

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