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Living the hygge lifestyle - Taking a lesson from wildlife

The Danish lifestyle trend known as hygge (pronounced ‘hue-guh’) has taken off around the world. While this concept of finding cozy contentment and well-being through simple routines, like a sip of cocoa or a heavy, warm blanket, isn’t hard to grasp, it may seem out of reach with busy schedules and stressful times. We at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service want to share some hygge lessons from wildlife to show you how they manage the cold, dark days of winter.

Red fox

Red fox resting in snow
Red fox. Photo by Jim Peaco/NPS.

If you’re dressed for the weather, any sunny spot in the snow is a nice place to nap. Hygge coziness comes naturally for red foxes. In the colder parts of the country, they even grow longer, thicker coats to keep them insulated. These solitary omnivores don’t even need dens unless they’re raising young and keeping them safe. Instead, they sleep in the open and wrap up in their tails for warmth – like a built-in blanket. As they say in Denmark, that’s top hygge!

Dragonfly nymph

Hine’s emerald dragonfly nymph
Hine’s emerald dragonfly nymph. Photo by Ryan Hagerty/USFWS.

It’s important to remain productive even when it’s cold and snowy. Dragonflies totally get the slow pace of hygge. With more than 450 dragonfly species found throughout the U.S. and Canada and the majority of their lifecycle happening under water, they lead a pretty active winter out of sight. This larval nymph stage varies by species, but can last as long as five years! Some nymphs feed actively and grow all winter, emerging as adults in the early spring.

Woolly bear caterpillar

Woolly bear caterpillar
Woolly bear caterpillar. Photo courtesy of Christa R./Creative Commons.

While some may head to warmer climates, others see the value in seeking good shelter and hunkering down where they are. Woolly bear caterpillars spend the winters in the larval stage, hiding out in leaf litter. In the spring, they’ll reactivate, spin cocoons and emerge as adult Isabella tiger moths in about 10 to 15 days.

Indiana bat

Cluster of endangered Indiana bats in a cave
Cluster of endangered Indiana bats. Photo by Andrew King/USFWS.

These social mammals find winter warmth by cuddling in dense clusters in caves or abandoned mines. Indiana bats show us that the hygge lifestyle isn’t necessarily a solo endeavor. During hibernation, these bat clusters can reach densities of up to 500 bats per square foot, all joining together for the long winter. Good thing they all get along! For hibernation, they require cool, humid caves with stable temperatures, under 50° F, but above freezing. This adaptation is essential for survival during the cold winter months when no insects are available for bats to eat. Bats must store energy in the form of fat before hibernating. During the six months of hibernation the stored fat is their only source of energy. If bats are disturbed, more energy is needed and hibernating bats may starve.

Ruffed grouse

Ruffed grouse in snowy conifer
Ruffed grouse. Photo courtesy of David Mitchell/Creative Commons.

Making use of what you have is very hygge. Ruffed grouse can relate – they’re experts at making the best of their situation even through long, harsh winters. In fact, they're known to burrow into snowbanks and use dense conifers as shelter. These grouse aren’t going to let difficult terrain bog them down. Ruffed grouse grow protrusions of cartilage from their toes in order to better walk on snow. When spring arrives, it’s time to shed that excess baggage and celebrate new beginnings, so these protrusions simply fall off.

As you head into the most hygge time of the year, consider these life lessons. Are there any tactics from these species you can use to find moments of coziness, peace and reflection as the winter temperatures drop and the landscape is blanketed in snow?