Snug as a bug, by Lianne de Mello, Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust
Shortening day length and dropping temperatures are the signal for many species to go into torpor, a period of sleep. Their hibernation can vary from a few days to several months to avoid the winter.
Many animals hibernate, including reptiles, newts, insects (such as ladybirds and queen bumblebees), bats and dormice. It helps them conserve energy as food becomes harder to find over the winter months – they use less energy by slowing everything down, such as heart, breathing and metabolic rate. For example a dormouse will drop its heart and breathing rate by around 90% while in hibernation.
However, not all animals remain asleep for the whole of the winter. Bats for example will move around on warmer evenings to find food or to move position within a roost, whereas a dormouse rarely wakes up from its deep slumber until the leaves are back on the trees in spring.
The ideal spot for hibernating is usually somewhere that will not be disturbed, where the temperature will remain stable no matter what is happening outside, and often humid places to avoid dehydration while they are asleep. Like us, many animals lose water through breathing, so need to take care during hibernation.
The sorts of places they look for are around log and rock piles. These are ideal hidey holes for amphibians and reptiles, which will often find a nice safe place buried in the middle to spend the winter. Dormice are typically found in the bottom of coppice stools, so try not to disturb areas of woodland where dormice may be dozing.
Hedgehogs often build a nest of loose material which can often just look like piles of dead leaves under shrubs and hedges. Meanwhile bats may be found in cellars or outbuildings, squeezed in to any suitable gap like where mortar has fallen out between brick work. But it’s not just outside where you should keep your eyes open, Ladybirds can often be found indoors, for example making use of gaps around our window frames and doors.
Don’t forget that not all animals hibernate – some just become less active, like badgers, while others can still be seen daily including birds. You can help these animals make it through the winter by leaving out fresh water (don’t forget to check it isn’t frozen each morning!) and food, to help keep them going through the winter.
Remember it can be risky for animals to be woken up before they are ready, as it uses a lot of energy. For this reason warm winters can confuse hibernating animals, and risks them starving. If you find a hibernating animal, put them back where you found them as quickly as possible.
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