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Idaho State News

February ‘Wildlife Express’ Goes Underground for a Closer Look at the Subnivean Zone

C Liess | IDFG

Each Wildlife Express issue features an Idaho wildlife species and articles related to science and ecological concepts.

Chances are if you’ve ever left your elk or deer meat in the deep freezer for too long, a fine layer of ice crystals forms around the vacuum bag. The process—known as sublimation—doesn’t just occur in your freezer; you can also find examples of sublimation in nature, which is where you can find this month’s edition of Wildlife Express.

When looking across a field of snow, it may seem like a quiet, deserted space. But the subnivean zone—the area beneath the snow—is a microhabitat beaming with life. Some of the most important creatures living in the subnivean zone you can’t even see. They are billions of tiny organisms. These microorganisms drive the health of the whole ecosystem.

The main cast of the subnivean environment is made up of voles, mice, shrews, and red squirrels. Voles and mice are the most common mammals living in the subnivean zone. They seek shelter under the snow from freezing temperatures and predators, creating elaborate homes. Since they are active throughout the winter, they need everything that they would need during the summer.

Where there’s small, plump little prey, there are predators. Weasels, foxes, and owls all patrol the subnivean zone, looking for frozen little balls of food scurrying beneath the snow’s surface. Weasels are the smallest carnivores, or meat-eating animals, in Idaho. They have long slender bodies, short legs, and pointed faces, perfectly designed to hunt in the subnivean zone.

If you want to dive a little deeper into February’s edition of Wildlife Express, it’s available on Idaho Fish and Game’s Wildlife Express webpage.

Wildlife Express is a monthly newsletter for elementary school-age children that teaches lessons about wildlife species and subjects. Each issue features an Idaho wildlife species and articles related to science and ecological concepts. The articles are written educationally and entertainingly to get students excited to read and learn about wildlife and their environments.

Check out Idaho Fish and Game’s Wildlife Express webpage to learn more and peruse past issues.