Zoology

Animals that Hibernate



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Hibernation is the process of an animal's body going into a low state of metabolism primarily as a result of cold temperatures and reduced lighting. Heart rate drops, mental activity declines and body temperature even drops to just barely survival levels. It is almost like a comatose state, but is seasonal and allows the creature involved to survive long periods with no food and water. Now that hibernation has been defined, what animals actually hibernate in the winter?

Most reptiles and amphibians hibernate through the winter. Turtles and salamanders will go to the bottom of a pond, embed themselves in the mud and as water temperatures decrease, they slow down and reach a body temperature of about 4 C (39.6 F). Their heart beat is about 5 beats per minute. Snakes and lizards will go into a shallow den underground, just deep enough to hibernate but in an area that will warm with the spring sun and tell them when winter is over.

Do birds hibernate? Most just fly south for the winter or can survive on the winter vegetation (or at the numerous bird feeders). They are highly mobile and can navigate over most obstacles that land based animals might find a problem. Everyone except the Western Whip-Poor- Will. Hummingbirds slow down in the evening, but is based upon light and not true hibernation.

Many insects are hibernators. Some bees and wasps shut down their metabolism, find a south facing branch (or wall) and sleep through the winter. This is not true of most beetles, moths and butterflies. They actually lay eggs which do not start to develop until light cycles , humidity, and temperatures are favorable for the survival of the offspring. Some insects also go with the birds and fly south for the winter.

Then there are the mammals. Which mammals are true hibernators/ Is it bears, hedgehogs, prairie dogs, squirrels, or what?

Bears are the ones every child learns about in school and their metabolism does change, but some people argues that it isn't enough to qualify as true hibernation. Some scientists claim it is a deep sleep rather than true hibernation and you can wake up a sleeping bear, if you dare! Some smaller mammals are definite hibernators, when they go under it will take an oven to wake them up and several hours if not days. Many people when they find them think that they are dead. You could also throw in chipmunks, hamsters, shrews, moles, bats, skunks, badgers and even some lemurs!

Animals that hibernate in the winter. These are all the most common, but there are new discoveries every day.

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