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Way down below the snow is an area called the subnivean zone

“February is pitiless, and it is boring. That parade of red numerals on its page adds up to zero: birthdays of politicians, a holiday reserved for rodents, what kind of celebrations are those?” – Tom Just to the left of the snowshoe hare print are some tiny mice tracks!Robbins, Jitterbug Perfume

February seems a cold and trying month to get through, but contrary to Tom Robbin's beliefs, some rodents give us cause for celebration. We may not see them, but many creatures are active all winter long underneath the snow, braving the long cold winter with us. They are in an area called the subnivean zone. This zone is created when ground heat melts the thin layer of snow above it, leaving sections of airspace usually no more then 4 cm in height.

Just to the left of the snowshoe hare print are some tiny mice tracks!Once we get just six inches of snowpack the subnivean zone will provide insulation and help prevent heat loss. Regardless of the temperature outside, it will stay 32 degrees in the subnivean zone.

And who are these subnivean residents? Mice, voles and pocket gophers spend most of their time down there, but its not all eating and cozy temperatures. Several animals use the subnivean zone as hunting grounds. Weasels run around down below the snow to catch their dinner, and foxes and larger owls can hear movement beneath them and pounce from above.

Want to try it out for yourself? Build a quinzee, a shelter made by piling and then hollowing out a mound of snow. Just pile up some snow about head height and then wait a few hours for the snow to settle. After, hollow out the middle leaving about a foot on both sides. Crawl inside and spend some time in the warmth of your insulating snow quinzee. Maybe even spend the night!

February is our shortest month but can often feel like one of the longest. So this February take a cue from our some of our active winter rodents and spend some time under the snow instead of just on top of it!  

~ Rachel Solomon