Montana Public Radio

Montana Natural History Center

Hibernating ladybugs (Coccinellidae)
Flickr user, Jason (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Every autumn I begin to wonder: where do all the bugs go? Unlike people, and other warm-blooded critters that can maintain a consistent internal temperature, insects cannot. So, you might wonder, what do insects do to survive the cold?

Snow-Making 101

Mar 1, 2020
Flickr user, Dawn Perry (CC-BY-NC-2.0)

Few things brighten a typical Montana winter day like a little snowfall. Right when you feel that you can't take another grey day, a couple of inches of heaven fall to raise your spirits. But just how do these floating flakes come to be? Snow obviously comes from clouds, but not just any cloud.

How To Eat Lunch, Not Be Lunch: Safety In Numbers

Feb 23, 2020
Ryan Hagerty, U.S.F.W.S.

Horses, bighorn sheep and mule deer all coming together in the same place, using the same trails. What is so special about this place? This little patch of ground, where trails converge, is where the need to avoid predators comes into balance with the need to eat.

River otters in winter
Flickr user, USFWSMidwest (CC-BY-2.0)

What happens to otters in winter when the lake is frozen, I wondered. Does the family stay together or disperse? Do otters have any special survival strategies to get through the cold times?

How Do Ants Keep Warm In Winter?

Feb 9, 2020
red wood ant mound
Thue (PD)

On a recent stroll around a local bird refuge, I was struck by the appearance of a large ants’ nest, covered with a thatch of pine needles. The type of ants who construct these nests are called “mound builders,” and this particular mound was made by red wood ants. What do they do to survive the cold, I wondered?

Kristamonique (Pixabay)

Walking in a heavy snowstorm at night is one of my favorite ways to experience winter. There is something quite magical about being wrapped in the hug of falling snow. Snowflakes land delicately and melt on the tip of my nose. The trees are covered in a lacy latticework of icy crystals. The world slows down for a while and becomes quiet, save for the scrape of shovels on driveways and sidewalks, or the thwop of snow as it slides en masse from roof to yard.

'Field Notes': Meeting A Montana Loon In Mexico

Jan 26, 2020
U.S.F.W.S. (P.D.)

Each week, the haunting wail of the common loon opens the Field Notes program. The loon’s cry always brings to my mind clear mountain lakes rimmed by lush coniferous forests, a handsome pair of birds in their formal black and white courting plumage calling across the quiet water.

Needle Ice: A Freeze-Frame Of Capillary Action

Jan 19, 2020
Needle ice pushing up soil particles
Thomas Bresson (CC-BY-2.0)

It was midnight and dark, but when my boots made crunching noises as I walked along the dirt road, I knew what was underfoot: tiny, clustered pillars of ice lifting the top layer of soil debris from the road.  Now, in the light of the morning, the ice pillars look like miniature, partially buried, delicate ice castles.  I am as intrigued by them now as I was when I first noticed them a few years ago, both here by Flathead Lake and up along McDonald Creek in Glacier National Park.

Beneath The Snow, The Subnivean Zone Bustles

Jan 12, 2020
Diane Renkin, Yellowstone National Park (PD)

Many animals are able to survive the freezing cold temperatures of a Montana winter by making use of that place between the snow and the ground called the subnivean layer. This layer is created because snow is such a good insulator, holding in warm air heated by the earth, and keeping out cold air.

Sponges: These Aquatic Oddities Are At Home In Montana

Jan 5, 2020
Spongilla lacustris, a widspread freshwater sponge often found under logs and rocks in lakes.
Kirt L. Onthank (CC-BY-SA-3.0)

Although many people associate these stone-like animals with the crystalline waters of the tropics, several species of sponges do occur in lakes and ponds across North America, including those of western Montana. 

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