Everyone knows bears and hedgehogs hibernate, but did you know that snakes, snails, frogs, turtles, bats, bees and a menagerie of other animals also find that hunkering down through the winter is a lot easier than migrating thousands of miles to some place warmer. Here are a few other facts about hibernation that may inspire you to grab a cozy comforter and at least huddle near your fireplace with a cup of hot coco. Too bad for you though, unlike the bear and the hedgie, you will have to get up tomorrow morning and face the day, no matter how cold!
1. Some hibernating animals will wake up for short spurts during the winter months to eat and relieve themselves. Other animals sleep through the entire winter without doing either.
2. European hedgehogs are deep winter sleepers and usually go through the entire winter without waking. By all outward appearances you would think a hibernating hedgie was dead — their feet, ears, and skin are all cold to the touch and their breathing is almost undetectable. Normally, a hedgehog’s heart races at a frantic 190 beats per minute, but during hibernation it slows to about 20 beats per minute. When outdoor winter temperatures fluctuate, a hedgehog’s heart will just beat a little faster to generate more internal heat or slow down to save energy. Outwardly, the hedgehog will feel cold, but inside it’s heart is toasty warm.
3. In preparation for winter’s deep sleep, a black bear can gain up to 30 pounds a week. I’m sure many humans are glad they don’t do that!
4. Animals in hibernation do have internal controls that prevent their core body temperature from falling dangerously low. The animal will awake if their internal alarm goes off warning that their temperature is too close to freezing. That must be a rude awakening, indeed.
5. Snails are built for self-contained hibernating. They burrow underground and withdraw into their shell. But before falling into a deep winter sleep, they seal their door with a chalky, slimy excretion that hardens and locks in essential moisture. A small air hole allows oxygen to enter, but still keeps predators out. In this hibernation mode, they use almost no energy and require no food to live. Some snails use this same technique to survive extended drought periods.
6. Different bee species have different mechanisms for surviving through harsh winters. Honeybees will stop flying when temperatures dip below 50 degrees F. They instead huddle together in the center of the hive making what is known as a winter cluster. The queen bee is at the center, while all of the sister bees rotate through the cluster so that no bee gets too cold for too long. The cluster center will be about 80 degrees and the outer edges will be between 46 and 48 degrees. The colder the weather the tighter the cluster. During this time, the bees also consume the honey stored in the hive which helps them produce essential body heat. On warmer days, bees will sometimes venture out to eliminate bodily waste, but they do not venture far (if temperatures dip quickly they may be fatally prevented from returning to the warmth of the hive).
Next page: A slithering ball of hibernating snakes plus bats, bears and birds