Who’s Hibernating This Winter?
Ever wonder where some creatures, like chipmunks, turtles, or bats, disappear to during the long winter? Well, it turns out that bears aren’t the only ones that hibernate. Lots of animals do, and there are different kinds of hibernation!
Whether it’s true hibernation, “light” hibernation, or brumation, what these animals achieve in order to survive the winter is an incredible feat. Here’s a list of small animals, reptiles, and fish that participate in some form of hibernation.
Hibernation is a state of deep sleep that many animals enter during the winter months in order to survive the cold. True hibernators enter into a comatose-like state during winter, hardly ever waking to eat or drink. The animal’s body temperature drops dramatically, and its heart rate, metabolism, and breathing slow down. It will appear dead or in a coma, and it’s difficult, if not impossible, to wake the animal during true hibernation.
In order to prepare for such drastic physical changes, these animals work hard during summer and fall to gather and eat plenty of food to build up the fat stores in their bodies. Woodchucks, chipmunks, dormice, hedgehogs, and bats all experience true hibernation.
Torpor or “light” hibernation
Torpor is a shorter, less involved version of true hibernation. “Light” hibernators take long naps instead of falling asleep so deeply that they can’t be woken. Torpor hibernators animals wake up and move around more frequently than true hibernators, often leaving their hideout to forage for food. Ground squirrels, hamsters, raccoons, skunks are examples of light hibernators.
Brumation is the version of hibernation that cold-blooded animals go through in winter. While brumating, reptiles often don’t eat, drink, or even move for weeks. Some bury themselves below ground, while others find a dark, cool place to hide.
Some snakes and lizards, particularly bearded dragons, undergo brumation, as do some species of turtles and tortoises. Many amphibians also brumate during winter.
While fish cannot technically hibernate, many of them can experience decreased metabolic rates resulting from colder water temperatures or low oxygen availability. One fish that comes closest to true hibernation is the Antarctic cod. According to marine biologists studying the Antarctic cod, the fish enters a semi-comatose state in frigid waters, reducing its normal activity by 20 times.
It’s amazing to think about how these animals naturally evolved to sleep through harsh winters. We know many humans who wish they could do the same!