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A season of light

Black and white warbler - Mniotilta varia
Credit: Biodôme de Montréal (Projet MVC)
Paruline noir et blanc - Mniotilta varia
A season of light

A season to look forward to

Spring isn’t far off, a wonderful season synonymous with the return of warmth, crocuses breaking through the snow and the first songs of the American robin. In other words, a period when nature wakes up and animal life becomes more and more active.

All different kinds of spring!

When does spring really start? Around March 21, you’re probably thinking. But in fact, the seasons can be defined in a number of different ways. For example, in the northern hemisphere, from the meteorological point of view spring begins on March 1. In other parts of the world there’s no real spring: in such cases there are only two seasons, the dry season and the rainy season. From the astronomical standpoint, spring corresponds to the period located between the shortest days of winter and the longest days of summer. In the northern hemisphere, the spring equinox (12-hour day, 12-hour night), which takes place around March 20, corresponds to the halfway point of that cycle. Finally, there are the seasons of the human calendar, which vary according to country, tradition and historical period.

Animal calendar

But what about the “animal” calendar? In the spring, depending on the species, there are many jobs to carry out: migration or the end of hibernation, looking for a partner, mating, preparing a nest or a shelter, and much more. The strategy: organize things in such a way that the babies are born in springtime or at the start of summer, meaning when food can be found in abundance. With beavers, for instance, mating happens in January or February, and the offspring are born in May or June. After a few weeks, the young are able to leave the lodge and follow their parents, who’ll teach them the rudiments of life in favorable conditions.

An efficient metronome

What is it that triggers this whole sequence? How is the right rhythm kept up, year after year? The rise in temperature plays an important role for plants and for cold-blooded animals. On the other hand, changes in mammal and bird activity are based on a much more precise factor: variation in the photoperiod. Starting around Christmas, the length of the day begins a long climb to overtake the length of the night. The increase in light affects an animal’s physiology, producing behaviors that will better ensure its survival.

At the Biodôme, in the Laurentian Maple Forest, spring begins on March 1. To the songs of birds, come see the activities of beavers or raccoons while keeping nice and warm, far from the winter season still digging in outside.

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