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Hibernating Animals: Bears Aren't the Only Species to Hibernate

Dorothy is a Master Gardener, former newspaper reporter, and the author of several books. Michael is a landscape/nature photographer in NM.

Chipmunks Prepare for Winter

This chipmunk is getting prepared for winter but they don't sleep all the way through the season. Instead, they retreat to burrows and wake every few days to raise their body temperatures and feed on normal, stored food rather than fat reserve.

This chipmunk is getting prepared for winter but they don't sleep all the way through the season. Instead, they retreat to burrows and wake every few days to raise their body temperatures and feed on normal, stored food rather than fat reserve.

Chipmunks Eat During Their Hibernation

Chipmunks love to eat, so when you see a chipmunk with his mouth full of food, keep in mind that he could be preparing for hibernation. The chipmunk is not a true hibernator in that he wakes up occasionally to eat. When it's warm, these cute little guys spend their time eating and rebuilding the fat they lost while they were hibernating. They eat a lot during the warmer months and seek out a place to nest for the winter. They typically choose an underground burrow.

Chipmunks begin storing food in the burrow so that they have something to eat during hibernation. Unlike true hibernating species that prepare and store enough fat to get them through winter, chipmunks prefer to store an ample supply of nuts and seeds in their burrows so that they won't get hungry.

They don't sleep through the whole winter, but remain in a state of dormancy, waking often to eat nuts and seeds (and take bathroom breaks). They sleep until their hunger wakes them up, eat, and repeat. During hibernation, a chipmunk's heart pumps only about 15 times per minute, his respiration slows and he will only take about 20 breaths per minutes.

Hedgehogs Could Use Your Help

Food becomes scarce for wild hedgehogs in the winter months so they hibernate out of necessity. Like chipmunks, the hedgehogs will awaken several times during hibernation, mainly because they haven't stored enough food and must go out and about to gather more. Hibernation for them begins in October or November, but you might see them wandering around until New Year's Day if their collection efforts didn't provide enough food to get them through the winter. If there's a temporary warming spell during the winter, they might choose that particular time to forage for more food.

If you have hedgehogs around your property, you can assist them throughout the winter months by putting out fresh water and food for them to find. They are not picky eaters, although they usually eat insects in the wild. You can put out a canned cat or dog food that is high in protein for them but don't leave it in the can. They also need to eat fruits and vegetables, so you could add beans, peas, corn, apples, grapes, and carrots to the meal. There also some commercially-available hedgehog foods that are nutritionally balanced for them.

The Poorwill Is One of the Few Bird Species to Hibernate

During its version of hibernation, the common poorwill (Phalaenoptilus nuttallii) slows its metabolic rate, drops its body temperature and goes into a state known as torpor. The poorwill can stay in that state for several weeks, although it is probably not considered true hibernation. The species can, however, go for long periods of time with no food, which helps it to survive the cold spells during which insects (its prey) are inactive. This nocturnal bird preys upon night-flying insects most of the time. Any time it is deprived of food, it can put itself into the torpor state.

Hibernating Bats

Bats usually hibernate from about October or November until spring. Many people used to believe that bats would migrate to a cave for hibernation, but apparently, many of them will hibernate inside certain buildings and even homes.

Misconceptions About Bats

Bats are not rodents and they are not filthy. As a matter of fact, they are quite meticulous about grooming their fur and staying clean in general. Less than 1% of all bats ever contract rabies and they have almost no contact with humans. Rabies in bats is not common, but it is a deadly disease. If a person gets bitten by a bat, it's usually due to them trying to pick up or handle a sick or injured bat. Vampire bats are found in South America and Central America but none are found in the United States.

Bats are actually beneficial to have around (although still creepy) because of the tremendous number of flying insects they consume (like mosquitoes). They don't attack people, and some homeowners are even installing bat houses on their property as a way of controlling the insects that are attracted to humans.

Only the Queen Bee Hibernates Until Spring

Bumblebees hibernate, but honeybees do not. Queen bumblebees dig a hole in well-drained soil in order to hibernate. The hole is usually on north-facing banks so they are not exposed to low winter sun, which could heat the soil and cause the bee to emerge from hibernation early. Some queen bees can hibernate for up to nine months. Hibernation is an important part of the bee's life cycle, as it protects her from starvation, diseases, predators and general rigors of life above ground.

The Life Cycle of a Queen Bee

The queen bee will emerge in the spring and begin establishing nests in various places where she will lay several broods of worker bees during the spring and summer. Eventually, she will produce new queens and/or male bees, which will leave the nest in order to mate with bees from other nests. The new queens will go into hibernation and the old queens, along with the workers and male bees will die. The sperm from the male will be used by the newly-mated queen to fertilize her eggs the following year, which begins the life cycle again.

The Dwarf Lemur Is the Only Primate to Hibernate

The fat-tailed dwarf lemur of Madagascar is not only the only primate around the world to hibernate, it is also the only animal that can fall fully asleep while hibernating in its natural environment. The lemur hibernates in holes of trees along the western coast of Madagascar for a period of up to seven months. It uses hibernation as a time to conserve its energy while the fruits and leaves it would normally feed on are not available.

During hibernation, the lemur's metabolic rate decreases to about two percent of what it would be during times of normal activity. When a lemur is awake, its body temperature is usually around the same as a human's, about 98 degrees Fahrenheit. During hibernation, its body temperature drops to match the ambient temperature, usually from about 40 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit.

References

  1. Woods, Christopher P., Ryan D. Csada and R. Mark Brigham. 2005. The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York, USA.

© 2018 Mike and Dorothy McKenney

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