5 Fascinating Facts About Hibernating Animals

Editor’s note: This Care2 favorite was originally posted on January 25, 2015. Enjoy!

Most people do not give much thought to the changing of seasons. Sometimes we shift our wardrobes to include seasonal clothing that is appropriate for the weather. Other times we may alter our eating habits to include holiday foods. Annual cold-weather related disorders are even known to plague us. However, it’ rare that our entire lives are uprooted and modified for the winter.

But animals that hibernate do exactly that. Their whole way of life is transformed into something completely new. Whether it be a creature that can altogether stop breathing and instead absorb oxygen in a novel way, or a critter that “hibernates” in a lighter sub-style of the process in order to recuperate only until awoken by possible danger, the concept of hibernation is simply fascinating.

While there are more than enough extraordinary facts about animals who hibernate to produce extensive literature on the topic, here are just five remarkable facts that will blow your mind.

1. Some hibernating animals can stop breathing and be perfectly fine.

Water reptiles and amphibians can do some extreme things in order to hibernate. For instance, frogs like the hibernating bullfrog breathe air in the summer so that when winter arrives, their bodies slow down and they can absorb oxygen through their skin without actually breathing. In fact, most of a pond’s reptiles and amphibians are able to absorb the oxygen that they need through their skin; some turtles do this as well.

2. Some animals have adapted their hibernation style to suit their survival needs.

Animals such as bears can go into an alternate, light hibernation state called a torpor. Torpor is like hibernation, but in this condition, the bear can be woken up easily. Unlike the deeper sleep during hibernation, animals who are in a torpor can be more aware of threats, making them superior survivors. Ground squirrels are also among animals who torpor, however they shift between hibernation, torpor and being awake.

3. Animal companions can lightly hibernate — and have even been mistaken for dead.

Hamsters are also animals who torpor. Hamster parents have mistaken their beloved pals to be deceased, only to witness their little balls of fur “come alive” again. The reason that hamsters go into light hibernation is due to the fact that there is a food and water source close by and readily available to them; they just wake up to dine, then resume their torpor. Sadly, hibernating hamsters can become tremendously startled if purposefully awoken from torpor, and some have even died of heart attacks.

4. An animal’s body can wake them for protection

Interestingly, the hedgehog whose heart rate drops by approximately 90 percent, can get too cold. If a hedgehog’s body temperature decreases to an unhealthy measure, it will wake up just enough so that the waking heart rate naturally warms it just right, then hibernation recommences. Hedgehogs also go into estivation during immensely warm weather, which is a hibernation that allows the animal to cool down before resuming normal activities.

5. Some animals treat hibernation like nature’s pause button.

The common poorwill is the only bird that goes into true hibernation. It hibernates during extreme temperatures — when it is either too hot or too cold — and at times of food scarcity. As a built-in survival technique, the animal can take a hiatus and increase chances of continuation. The common poorwill can even hibernate while they are incubating its eggs, proving to be not only a true survivor, but also a riveting multitasking animal.

Looks like nature has a pretty good handle on winter, doesn’t it?

Photo Credit: Denali National Park/Flickr


Marie W
Marie W5 months ago

thanks for sharing

Nena C
Nena C10 months ago

so interesting esp about the bird! Mama Nature does have it well in hand

Maggie Davey
Maggie D10 months ago

A tip for anyone who feeds hedgehogs in the garden - they will wake if the weather turns warm at any time and, as they shiver until they wake properly, it uses up a lot of energy, which they need to replenish with food, urgently. Therefore if the weather turns unseasonably warm, it is a good idea to put out dried hedgehog food for them, plus water, of course. If, at any time, you see a small hedgehog out, it was too small (anything under 500grams is too small) to hibernate properly and will die if left. There are lots of sancturies who will take it in for you and keep it warm and fed until the spring, when it can be released. These little creatures are in such dire straits, with numbers diminishing so quickly in the UK, that they need all the hlp we can give them.

Leanne K
Leanne K11 months ago

Its an efficient way to deal with the extreme cold weather. Us humans just ravage the finite resources..

Sonia M
Sonia M11 months ago

Interesting post thanks for sharing

Panchali Yapa
Panchali Yapa Yapa11 months ago

Thank you

Ramesh B
Ramesh B11 months ago

Thanks for sharing

Emma Z
Past Member 11 months ago


Cathy B
Cathy B11 months ago

Interesting. Thank you.

bob P
bob P11 months ago