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Word of the Week: Chionophile
February 13, 2020 by Haya Aldoori

Welcome to Word of the Week! Stay tuned for a new word each Friday to amp up your nature vocabulary!

Deer Mouse

Chionophile [ KAHY-uh-no- fahy l](noun): Any organism that loves the snow and can thrive in cold winter conditions. Chionophiles can be animals, plants, or fungi which have specialized adaptations that help them survive the harshest winters.

This fun word comes from the Greek words “chion,” meaning “snow”, and “phile,” meaning “lover of.”

When we think of chionophiles, more obvious examples, like snowy owls and snowshoe hares, might come to mind. However, there are also less obvious some examples that might surprise you…

Believe it or not, Mice are considered to be chionophiles!

They will retreat to the subnivean zone for protection from cold temperatures, intense winds, and hungry predators. The subnivean zone is the area between the surface of the ground and the bottom of the snowpack. Under this snow, these tiny mammals will create long tunnel systems, which have air shafts to the surface above.

It takes only about 15cm of snow for mice to have that sturdy snow roof over their heads and a good amount of space for them to reside and move freely within the subnivean tunnels.

Add another 5cm and the subnivean zone will remain within a degree or two of 0°C, regardless of the temperature and weather conditions in the outside world. In other words, the deeper the snow the better!

Keep an eye out for the tracks of these sneaky chionophiles and their subnivian air shafts on your next visit to High park!

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