As autumn plods along towards winter, the days are getting noticeably shorter and colder. You might be tempted to stay tucked up in bed for 10 extra minutes in the morning, or maybe you’re stocking the cupboards with emergency biscuits and hot chocolate. This is the human equivalent of hibernating; here RSPB Scotland's Molly Martin shares 5 top hibernation tips from our animal experts.
How to hibernate like a pro
1. Eat lots!
It’s important to fatten up before going into hibernation – without body fat, animals wouldn’t be able to maintain body temperature in the cold months. Hedgehogs eat a very wide range of foods including beetles, worms, slugs and snails, and may benefit from supplementary feeding on cat, dog, or specialist hedgehog food over the winter. Over the rest of the year, a healthy dormouse weighs around 20g, but can be 35g (almost doubled!) before hibernation.
2. Find somewhere warm!
If you’re going to be in a small space for a long period of time, you want it to be cosy and warm. Hedgehogs like log piles, compost heaps, or specially made hedgehogs homes. Dormice come down from their canopy nests for the winter, as temperature at ground level is more stable, it is thought they hibernate in leaf litter, under moss, or in root bases of hedgerows. Most frogs hibernate at the bottom of ponds, buried into the mud where they can take in oxygen through their skin, and slow worms bury themselves underground.
Slow worm amongst autumn leaves (rspb-images.com)
3. Buddy up!
Hibernation is better together! Bats love hibernating in large groups called roosts. They will find somewhere sheltered such as a cave or a barn, and the roosts will huddle together (upside-down!) to let winter pass them by. Wrens don’t technically hibernate, but they will group nest during the winter to keep warm, the record is 60 wrens in one nest box!
4. Set your alarm!
Don’t forget to wake up! Hibernating animals lose a lot of weight over the winter, if they don’t wake up in time they may use up all their reserves, or miss the chance for breeding! It’s important to wake up when there’s food and mates around, but not if it’s still too cold. Frogs start to wake up when the temperature at night is over 5°C, which can be from January, but varies across the UK.
Common frog (rspb-images.com)
5. Shut down!
Aaaand sleep! The best way to conserve energy when it’s cold is to shut down your body. During hibernation a hedgehogs’ heart rate will drop from 190 beats per minute to just 20 beats per minute, their body temperature decreases from 35°C to 10°C, and they will only breathe once every few minutes! In the most extreme example of shutting down, female black bears in North America give birth during hibernation, and the cubs will nurse from her in the den until there is sufficient food for them to emerge!
Of the three UK mammals that hibernate, hedgehogs and bats can be found in Scotland, dormice are found only in England and Wales, with a few recent reports from Ireland. Frogs, wrens and slow worms are found across the UK, with slow worms being the only reptile found in the Outer Hebrides!
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