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Discover Nature: The Best Winter Coat

bob_cat_0025.jpg
Missouri Department of Conservation
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Bobcat

When winter winds chill us to the bone, we bundle up in sweaters, down vests and fleece parkas. Wild animals, on the other hand, must endure the cold.

A mammal’s fur and its thick layers of fat provide insulation that conserves body heat. Fur is made of two kinds of hair: guard hairs and underfur. Guard hairs are long and glossy and lay over the shorter, duller, downier underfur. Guard hairs waterproof the animal’s coat by blocking moisture and keeping the underfur dry. They also protect the underfur from wear. Underfur traps air warmed by the animal’s body heat and insulates the animal from the frigid air outside.

In North America, the length and thickness of an animal’s fur is greatest sometime between November and March. This winter coat is referred to as “prime,” when the animal’s fur is prime. Its skin turns blue or creamy white. This occurs because the blood supply to the hair decreases and production of hair pigments stop.
In spring, mammals begin to shed their fur. Some species shed twice a year, in spring and fall, while others shed continuously from early summer through fall.

The Missouri Department of Conservation monitors the fur market using mandatory fur dealer transaction records, mandatory pelt registration of bobcats (since 1980) and river otters (since 1996), and information gathered at fur auctions.

To buy and sell fur in Missouri individuals must be issued a commercial permit from the MDC. The permit requirements include maintaining and submitting records of all fur transactions. Data collected from fur dealers gives MDC an estimate of furbearer harvest.

Missouri’s wild fur market has been monitored annually since 1940, with some information dating back to 1934. The number of Fur Dealer Permits issued by MDC peaked at 1,192 during the 1945-46 trapping and hunting season.

More information about mammals in Missouri can be found online at missouriconservation.org.

Josh Hartwig is the host of Discover Nature and a media specialist for the Missouri Department of Conservation.
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