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Hibernation

Dormouse Dormouse Credits: Danny Green

In winter, many animals struggle to survive. Its hard to find enough food to eat and hard to survive the bitterly cold, wet weather.  One solution that nature has come up with to help with this problem is hibernation. 

What is hibernation?

Hibernation is a bit like sleeping.  In fact, hibernating animals may look just like they are sleeping, but hibernation is actually much more than this.  Hibernating animals are able to slow their bodies right down: they can slow their heartrate and breathing down, and also lower their body temperature. 

 

For example, a hedgehog will slow it's heartbeat down from 190 beats per minute to just 20 beats per minute when it hibernates.  It's body temperature will drop from 35˚C to just 10˚C! 

 

Hibernating animals do this so that they use less energy and so can survive for many weeks without food.

 

Hungry! Hungry!

Before going into hibernation, many animals will eat and eat and eat!  They do this to make themselves as fat as possible before hibernating.  This fat will give them energy during the winter. If they don't eat enough, they will run out of energy before spring arrives.

 

Which animals hibernate?

In the UK the following animals all hibernate:

  • Hedgehogs
  • Bats 
  • Dormice
  • Some insects (e.g. bumblebees, some butterflies, ladybirds)
  • Amphibians (frogs, toads, newts)
  • Reptiles (grass snakes, adders, slow worms)

 

Many people think that squirrels hibernate because they spend lots of time gathering food in autumn, but in reality they are collecting and storing food to eat over the winter.  Badgers don't hibernate either, although they do spend more time underground during winter and they sleep for longer than at other times of the year.  This helps them to save energy but it isn't actually hibernation.

 

How can I help hibernating animals?

Hibernating animals need somewhere sheltered where they won't be disturbed all winter.  Use one of our activity sheets to make a hibernaculum, an insect hotel, or some hidey holes for wildlife if you want to help hibernating animals.

 

What do I do if I find a hibernating animal?

If you find an animal that is hibernating, the best thing to do is to leave it alone because disturbing the animal might wake it up.  If a hibernating animal is woken up it will use up more energy and will need to find food to survive the rest of the winter.