Winter-white snow mammals on latest Canadian issue

By Jesse Robitaille

In a new set issued Feb. 16, Canada Post is recognizing five of the world’s 19 mammal species that undergo the twice-yearly process of moulting.

The five-stamp “Snow Mammals” set features a handful of animals found in Canada with a survival skill that’s distinctly adapted to the country’s snowy climate: their otherwise dark coats turn white in winter.

“These creatures are like ghosts, travelling on or under the snow without a sound,” Dominique Fauteux, a research scientist at the Canadian Museum of Nature, is quoted as saying in the latest issue of Details magazine. “Their unique adaptation invokes a very poetic view of winter as not only silent and calm, but also dangerous.”

The stamps feature the Arctic fox, ermine, northern collared lemming, Peary caribou and snowshoe hare – two predators and three prey, respectively – whose camouflage makes them difficult to spot in their natural habitats. The Arctic fox and ermine are stealthy hunters that often rely on the element of surprise to sneak up on their next meal. The snowshoe hare, northern collared lemming (dietary staples of many carnivores) and Peary caribou try to blend into the background to escape detection.

These five animals are among only 19 mammal species worldwide – 12 in Canada – that change coat colours owing to a complex physiological process influenced by changes in daylight hours. Known as moulting, the gradual process starts around the first snowfall before reversing in the warmer months (beginning around the spring melt).

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