‘Tis the Season … To Hibernate
With winter finally here in full force, I see the appeal of stuffing myself with food and sleeping until all this snow melts away. While snow-covered trees and trails are beautiful, there seems to be less wildlife to look at in the winter. As animal sightings are less frequent, it had me wondering where they all go.
When you think of hibernation, most people probably think of bears first. And while this is true, they’re aren’t actually the “truest” kind of hibernator, which includes a lowered heart-rate, breathing, and metabolism. This is because bears are in a much lighter sleep and can still be awakened. They get up more frequently than true hibernators, but can still sleep for days, weeks, or months — they go into what is called torpor. Skunks and raccoons are other mammals that can sleep for long periods of time to avoid the winter elements, but aren’t true hibernators.
Bats, however, have some of the longest hibernation capabilities and can survive on taking just one breath every two hours. And did you know that bees hibernate in holes in the soil? Well, the queen bee that is. Worker bees die off every winter, but the queen bee hibernates in the ground for six to eight months until it is warm enough to rebuild.
Garter Snakes are relatively harmless, but the idea of stumbling into a den of hundreds or thousands of them is not a pleasant one. While most snakes just become less active in the winter, garter snakes actually hibernate in dens in large quantities to stay warm. One den in Canada was found to have 8,000 garter snakes!
And did you know? Climate change is already affecting the hibernation patterns of some animals, like chipmunks. Bears also give birth and raise their young during the hibernation period, which could lead to very negative effects on their populations if hibernation times are reduced.