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How do squirrels stay warm up there?

Air, Insulation & Heat-trappers Keep Squirrels Warm

How do squirrels stay warm when they sleep?  Do you think that acorns and fur are enough to keep a squirrel from freezing on chilly nights?  How is a squirrel’s nest similar to your snuggly bed?  Taking a closer look at a squirrel’s nest of leaves high in the tree branches can help us answer these questions.

Perhaps the squirrel’s bed is messier than yours!  The leaves of a squirrel’s nest are not tightly packed.  The air in-between those messy leaves works to trap heat, just like the layers of coverings on your bed trap heat.  Your winter coat has puffy insulation, filled with air, it works to trap heat and hold it next to your body.

Just like the air in a squirrel’s nest and your winter coat hold heat, our planet can trap heat energy too.  It’s clear and mostly odorless but the atmosphere is most certainly hanging on to Earth and wrapping all the way around it.  Earth’s gravity holds the gases (nitrogen, oxygen, carbon dioxide, water vapor, methane, argon, neon, etc) close to Earth like a coat.  These are the gases that living things need to breathe and as they surround our planet the gases also act like a blanket to trap heat energy from the sun.  This is called the greenhouse effect.  Some gases trap heat more than others.  Carbon dioxide, water vapor, methane, nitrous oxide are a few top heat-trappers that are contributing to climate change.

TRY THIS!  Our mixture of air in the atmosphere is a great insulator and can trap heat and cold.  An example of keeping things cold is a cooler you may have used for a summer picnic.  An example or trapped air keeping you warm is fur on an animal or a winter coat.   Even though it is cold, snow traps air too.  Snow acts to insulate the ground, plants, or frozen lake underneath it.  How much air is in snow?  Fill a clean jar to the very top with snow, but do NOT pack the snow into the jar.  Carry the jar into the house and leave it at room temperature.  Did the amount of air in the jar surprise you?  What other snowy questions could you answer in this way?

TRY THIS!  To start this experiment, make four snowballs about the same size.  Using a plastic container as a mold will guarantee the same shape and volume for all four of your insulation test spots.  Wrap one snowball in an old t-shirt, another in a knit woolen hat, another in a pile of leaves, and leave the last snowball to sit alone.  Leave your snowball experiment for an hour or two outdoors in the sunshine.  Can you predict which snowball will melt first?  What material will best insulate the snowball and keep it from melting the fastest?  Would the results be the same if you moved the experiment indoors onto trays?  How could you improve your experiment?  What tools could you use to gather data?

Play. Learn. Love.

October 2014