Colorado Life Zones: Seasons, Plants, & Animals
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Montane Forests Life Zone: Seasons, Plants, & Animals
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Montane Forests Life Zone General Information

General Information

Montane Forests Life Zone Through the Seasons

Through the Seasons

Montane Forests Life Zone Mountain Pine Beetle

Mountain Pine Beetle

Montane Forests Life Zone Awesome Adaptations Awesome Adaptations

Montane Forests Life Zone Plants and Trees

Plants and Trees

Montane Forests Life Zone  Mammals

Mammals

Montane Forests Life Zone Birds

Birds

Montane Forests Life Zone Reptiles and Amphibians

Reptiles & Amphibians

Montane Forests Life Zone: Awesome Adaptations

    Colorado and the Rocky Mountains have many different plants and animals that have made awesome adaptations to live in the different life zones. Here are just a few.

Aspen Forest in the Fall Quaking Aspen Tree
Gray or Timber Wolf Gray or Timber Wolf
broad-tailed hummingbird Broad-tailed Hummingbird
Western Terrestrial Garter Snake Western Terrestrial Garter Snake
Awesome Adaptations: Quaking Aspen Tree

   The aspen tree is one of the most amazing trees. Did you know that a grove or forest of aspen is one of the largest living organisms on the planet? Aspen trees can make new trees with seeds and with their roots. The roots grow out of the ground and create new trees. The new trees make more roots that travel farther and create new aspen trees. Eventually, whole forests of aspen trees may grow from one aspen tree. All the trees may be connected by their roots. Even though it looks like many different trees, they may be all one organism.

     The aspens have adapted in other ways too.The aspen has beautiful white bark. Native Americans used to rub their hands on the white bark and use the white powder as sunscreen. When a branch dies, the tree has a way of letting the dead branches fall off over time. This makes the tree look clean, tall, and healthy. The green round shaped leaves quake or shake easily in the wind. Also, aspens create one of the most beautiful places each year when their leaves start changing brilliant colors of orange, red, and gold in the fall. Then they lose their leaves to save energy over the winter.

Sources of information and to find more information: SW CO Plants, Tree Book, Bird & Hike

Quaking Aspen Trees Aspen Forest in the Fall
Montane Forests Fall Montane Forest in the Fall
Aspens tuning color in the fall Aspen Leaves in the Fall
Awesome Adaptations: Gray or Timber Wolf

    There are few animals that stir up more emotion from humans than the wolf. Its haunting howl reminds us what is truly wild. Wolves are social animals that hunt and live in packs. They can communicate and cooperate with each other to bring down much larger animals. They seem to have a collective intelligence. Wolves are fast, strong, smart, territorial, and can travel long distances in a short period of time. Wolves do not make good pets. Wolves have a strong wild protective pack attitude and instinctive hunting aggressiveness. Also, they can get larger than a german sheppard. Their large size, strength, speed, pack mentality, instinctive hunting aggressiveness, and haunting howl have made them feared, hated, admired, and loved.

    In the late 1800's and early 1900's, most of the wolves in the Rocky Mountains and western part of the United states were killed. Settlers viewed them with fear. The settler feared for the safety of themselves and safety of their horses, milk cows, pigs, goats, and other animals they depended on. Cattle ranchers and sheep ranchers had to watch their livestock carefully. The cattle and sheep were easy prey and a pack of wolves could kill lots of livestock in a short period of time. So the wolves were soon nearly wiped out from most of the continental United States. However, a few packs of wolves remained in Yellowstone National Park, and the unsettled parts of Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho. For many decades, there had been no wolves in Colorado. However, things may be changing and Colorado may see its first packs of wolves living in the state in many decades.

    For as much as they are feared and hated, wolves play a very important part of the environment and food web. In the early part of the 1900's, most of the wolves had been killed in Yellowstone National Park. Large herds of elk, deer, and bison would roam freely across the park. Since the elk, deer, and bison had few to no enemies, their populations became huge. Soon, they did not have enough food to feed all of them and were eating most every edible plant in sight. They would eat the small aspen and willow trees before they would grow up for beavers to create marshlands that many other animals depended on for survival. With no beaver ponds or plants to hold the dirt in place with their roots, erosion and water quality had become a huge problem. They had to feed the elk, deer, and bison hay bales in the winter so there was not massive die offs over the harsh winters.

   However, in recent decades park managers have let the wolves come back in Yellowstone National Park and Wyoming. Wolf popualtions have grown quicker than many people thought was possible. The deer, elk, and bison population started decreasing to healthy numbers and the habitats or life zones became more balanced. There no longer is enough room to hold all the wolves in the Yellowstone National Park area.

    The wolf population is doing so well that they are going to other parts of Wyoming and parts of the northwestern United States. In fact, wolves have been seen in the northern part of Colorado for the first time in many decades. Wolves will help make habitats healthier and more balanced. But they also bring conflicts with ranchers, shrinking wild areas, and the historical fear by people. Wolves are truly WILD animals and that is why we fear them and love them so much.

Sources of information and to find more information: CO Div of Wildlife, Hogle Zoo, Defenders of Wildlife, San Diego Zoo

Gray or Timber Wolf Wolves
Wolf Pack of Wolves

Awesome Adaptations: Broad-tailed Hummingbird

    The broad-tailed hummingbird may be small, but it can do incredible things. The broad-tailed hummingbird is a migratory bird, meaning it travels south to Mexico for the winter and returns north to the Rocky Mountains for the summer. During the migration, the hummingbird may fly thousands of miles each year. They come back to the high Rocky Mountains for the large numbers of wildflowers that take over the hillsides in the late spring and summer. The hummingbird flies from flower to flower and drinks the sweet nectar. The hummingbird also eats many small flying insects for protein. It can flap its wings 40 to 50 times a second, allowing the bird to hover in the air and fly in every direction. Flying requires lots of energy and the hummingbird must get nectar from many flowers. The male humminbird's feathers may shine bright green on the back and bright reddish pink by the throat. The bright colors helps attract females.

    The broad-tailed hummingbird has made an even more amazing adaption to live in the mountains. Night-time temperatures may drop more than 30 degrees F from the day-time high temperatures. This drop in temperatures would be deadly for many birds. Yet, the tiny broad-tailed hummingbird has found a way to slow down its heart beat and let its body temperature drop down to 54 degrees F. This is called torpor and saves the hummingbird lots of energy overnight. When the sun rises and heats the land again, the hummingbird's temperature returns to normal and flies around looking for nectar and small flying insects.

    Considering flying thousands of miles each year on their migration, hovering in mid-air and flying in every direction, and slowing its heart beat down and cooling its body down every night, the tiny broad-tailed hummingbird is one awesomely adapted bird.

Sources of information and to find more information: All About Birds, Bird Watching Bliss, CSU NDIS

broad-tailed hummingbird

broad-tailed hummingbird
Awesome Adaptations:Western Terrestrial Garter Snake

    The western terrestrial garter snake can live in habitats or life zones where most other snakes or reptiles can not survive. They usually live in places in Colorado up to 11,000 feet above sea level, but some western terrestrial garter snakes have been found high in the apline life zone during the summer. They are not poisenous and usually can be found around water. The garter snake is not a picky eater. The garter snake will eat slugs, leeches, tadpoles, salamanders, frogs, worms, insects, fish, eggs, voles, and other small animals.

   During the long cold winter, garter snakes must find deep underground dens where the ground temperature keeps it just above freezing. Since there may be only a few of these dens in an area, many garter snakes will share one den. In spring lots of snakes may come out of one hole. Another trick that helps them survive is that they do not lay eggs like other snakes. They give birth to live young. This is very important since the time the snakes have to put on fat before the next winter is short. It is pretty impressive that the western terrestrial garter snake has found a way to live in the cold and snowy montane and subalpine life zones when few to no other reptiles could.

Sources of information and to find more information: CO Herp Society, CSU NDIS, Utah Div of Wildlife, eNature

Western Terrestrial Garter Snake Western Terrestrial Garter Snake
Colorado Life Zones General information Interactive Life Zone Diagram Colorado Life Zones Maps Semidesert Shrublands Life Zone West CO Shortgrass Prairie or Plains Life Zones Foothills Woodlands and Shrublands Montane Forests Life Zone Subalpine Life Zone Alpine Life Zone Riparian Life Zones