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Surviving ND winter

Common snapping turtle photo contributed.1 / 2
Scorpion photo contributed.2 / 2

With spring around the corner, recent snows and frost may keep some "non-charismatic" species in the area hunkered down a bit longer, but one sign of spring has emerged.

John Heiser, a backcountry ranger in Theodore Roosevelt National Park's North Unit, said a few days ago he found a small slant-faced grasshopper.

"It was about a quarter of an inch long and it was hanging out on a south slope of a thatching anthill in which I saw one thatching ant poke out," Heiser said.

Adult grasshoppers will generally die after they lay their eggs, which hatch in the spring, meaning they do not hibernate over winter, said Bill Whitworth, TRNP chief of resource management.

Dr. Jerry Fauske, a research specialist in the entomology department at North Dakota State University, said North Dakota's only scorpions are found in the western portion of the state, including the Badlands.

The creatures will overwinter, or live deeper in the soil or under rocks, Fauske said.

"A great many arthropods are active in the winter, but out there it depends on conditions and snow cover," Fauske said.

Most bugs and scorpions emerge depending on temperature.

Whitworth said while scorpions typically don't freeze in the winter, they come close to it.

"As soon as the soil gets warm enough then they'll start becoming active," Whitworth said.

Depending on the weather, Whitworth estimates such invertebrate species will start emerging late April or early May.

"Right now we've got good snow cover and the temperatures are just cool enough at ground level to keep anything from awakening," Whitworth said.

Whitworth said some snakes group together during cold months to conserve body heat.

"There may be dozens and dozens of them together in the same hole," Whitworth said. "That happens here with rattlesnakes among other things. You'll find little pockets here and there with many snakes in them."

However, most snakes probably won't become active until about early May, Whitworth said.

"But, if we get 60 degree weather consistently there could be some activity then," Whitworth said, adding it would have to be at least a day or more.

Since snakes and invertebrates cannot increase body heat on their own, they must go back into hibernation if the temperature were to suddenly drop again once they come out, Whitworth said.

Many turtle species will burrow in river banks below the frost line, Whitworth said.

While the turtles will not freeze solid, they will lower their body temperatures to protect themselves from not eating all winter.

Their return to activity also depends on weather and temperatures.

A few species found in TRNP are late for their arrival.

"Birds are way overdue," Heiser said.

Heiser said in comparison with his daily logged observations from years past, bird species, including mountain bluebirds, tree sparrows and robins are about 10 days late.