Tuesday, January 22, 2013


When it's this cold outside, everything creaks. I swear I hear my truck groan as the engine turns over.

When it's this cold, the floor of the cabin is like an icebox. Last night, I sat a bucket down on the cabin floor that had snow on its bottom. This morning, the snow was still intact on the floor, despite the constant wood stove roaring, preserved by the cold air wafting up through the floorboards from the ground below.

Right now, it is -2 at noon. Tonight it will be -19.

When it's this cold, there's not much difference between -5 and -15. It's just damned cold. I splashed some water on the floor as I was filling my buckets for the dogs, and it froze within five minutes.

Every animal has the ability to adapt to its environment in order to survive in its current habitat. For example, the snowshoe hare changes the color of its fur to adapt to winter's white, and a cactus as well as a camel both adapt to a lack of water in their habitat.

Sometimes, people ask me if my dogs are warm enough in temperatures such as the current deep freeze in the Midwest.  I need only remind them of 7th grade science class - and adaptation - for a reply.

It is imperative that mammals who live in climates where the temperature drops this low adapt or they won't survive. Sled dogs have literally hundreds of years of genetic coding behind them that have enabled them to not only survive, but thrive in arctic temperatures. Although sometimes when the temperatures drop this low, I will bring a couple of my shorter-coated dogs inside, my dogs prefer being outside and pace and wait by the door when they're inside.

A sled dog rests at a Seney 300 checkpoint
Thick fur, calloused tough feet and long guard hairs covering ears are ways sled dogs have adapted to keep them warm in frigid temperatures.

Biologically speaking, maintaining body temperature in mammals depends on the balance between heat production and heat dissipation. We mammals are equipped with some basic ways our bodies create heat, like, for example, shivering. This is an involuntary response to extreme cold that gets us moving in a basic way to increase our body temperature. The basic respiratory rate of mammals also increases slightly when the temperature is cold.

There are a few ways mushers help Mother Nature out with maintaining heat production in our canine athletes. One is through calories. A basic way our bodies produce heat is through the ingestion and burning of calories. During really cold days, I will increase the amount of food I feed my dogs to help them maintain comfort and their optimal weight.

Another way we help our dogs out is with preventing heat loss through body-to-air gradient. Think straw! Lots and lots of straw or wood chips help the dogs "nest." Additionally, the snow packed around their houses creates a sort of insulation, like an igloo of sorts, which keeps the warmth inside their houses and the cold outside.

Sled dogs are quite naturally equipped to handle frigid cold. If anything it is we humans who haven't learned to adapt to climate changes.
The author, gearing up to go outside in negative temperatures!   

 Stay warm, and as always...

1 comment:

  1. Nice juxtaposition of your physical experience and the science of adaptation!


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