Here's What Happens During Winter at Michigan Zoos

Have you ever wondered what happens at Michigan zoos when the temperatures drop and the snow starts to fall? Instead of hibernating, our furry, scaly and feathered friends receive excellent care around the clock, and you can still visit many of them! Read more about winter at the zoo with some help from guest bloggers Dan Malone of John Ball Zoo in Grand Rapids and Jennie Miller of the Detroit Zoo in Royal Oak.

Penguin at in its exhibit at the Detroit Zoo
Detroit Zoo | Photo Courtesy of Pure Michigan

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Detroit ZooRoyal Oak 

The Detroit Zoo is open 362 days a year, and winter is a magnificent time to see animals both indoors and outdoors, as many animals are active in the colder winter months. The Detroit Zoo also has many indoor areas to explore to stay out of the cold.
The Detroit Zoo ensures the safety of animals all year round, so those that are sensitive to colder temperatures are provided with access to warm places. Some animals may change their behavior patterns in colder months, which can include how active they are (inside or playing in the snow outside) or how much they eat.

On select nights through December 31, visitors can enjoy Wild Lights and experience five million LED lights on trees, buildings and more than 100 animal sculptures along a path through the front half of the Detroit Zoo. USA Today has nominated Wild Lights as among the Best Zoo Lights in the nation. Other activities include photos with Santa (through December 23), the Polar Express 4-D Experience, arts and crafts, ice sculptures, and the 22-foot-tall, 150-foot-long Polar Plunge snow slide!

Potter Park ZooLansing

The Potter Park Zoo is open all year, with the exception of December 25. In the colder months, animals can be more active and the zoo can be less crowded, making it the perfect Saturday afternoon family trip or perhaps a date night.

It also hosts the Wonderland of Lights, on select nights in November and December. Thousands of lights light up the zoo premises to create a magical atmosphere around the exhibits. Guests can enjoy cookies, crafts and animal encounters throughout the evening. They also host a Toys for Tots night, where admission to the event is free for those who bring new, wrapped toys. For adults, the zoo hosts occasional Winter Wein & Stein events. Visitors can enjoy wine and beer tastings with appetizers from local restaurants while listening to holiday music and wandering the Wonderland of Lights.

Indian Creek ZooLambertville

The Indian Creek Zoo remains open in the colder months, with the exception of Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve and Day and New Years’ Eve and Day. This smaller zoo offers up close and personal interactions with their animals, like the Wild Encounter where visitors can interact with a giraffe, wolf and bobcat.   

Sea Life Michigan Aquarium - Auburn Hills

Located in the Great Lakes Crossing Outlets, Sea Life is an aquarium perfect for year-round fun. With over 5,000 sea creatures ranging from sharks and sting rays to jelly fish and sea horses, this aquarium has plenty to see. It also has an interactive touch pool where visitors can reach in and touch urchins, lobsters and more. There’s even an underwater ocean tunnel, where thousands of tropical fish swarm around the clear tunnel as you walk through.

John Ball ZooGrand Rapids

While John Ball Zoo closes its gates to the public from November through February, it is business as usual for the animals and zookeepers. There’s still so much that goes on behind closed doors! Most of the zoo’s 1,400-plus animal residents spend the cold, snowy season in toasty, warm indoor quarters.

Animals that can tolerate winter temperatures go in and out as usual over the colder months. Many warm-weather animals enjoy time outside during warmer winter days. The chimpanzees especially like to go on a winter “hike”, though they prefer to keep their feet dry. Zookeepers enjoy finding clever ways to keep the animals busy and stimulated without the traffic of visitors. This kind of animal care is called enrichment and is practiced all year on almost all animal species. Enrichment enhances the animals’ behavioral, physical, social and psychological well-being. So while John Ball Zoo is closed during the winter months, there’s still so much happening with your animal friends. See you at the spring opening!

Across Michigan, many zoos and aquariums offer close encounters with nature's most interesting creatures. Unleash your animal instinct at a Michigan zoo or aquarium near you!

About the Authors: Dan Malone received his BS degree from Michigan State University, zoology major. Dan's responsibilities as an animal care supervisor include supervising, interviewing and hiring the zookeepers. He has had a lifelong interest in reptiles and amphibians, primarily snakes. Jennie Miller is the communications manager for the Detroit Zoological Society which operates the Detroit Zoo and Belle Isle Nature Zoo.