Hibernation, also known as ‘winter sleep’, is a state of deep sleep or dormancy that an animal undergoes during the cold months of winter. During this phase body metabolism and heart rate of the animal go down drastically and the animal practically sleeps for various days to months.
There are some animals that do not feel the need to hibernate as they can cope winter by some other mechanism. Hibernation is commonly found in warm blooded animals. Cold blooded animals may sleep through hot dry weather, this is called estivation. Given below is a list of animals that hibernate.
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Bears are a classic example of animals that undergo hibernation. Bears are found everywhere from swamps and mountains to the cold Arctic regions. Before the winter arrives, a bear hunts for an appropriate place to spend the cold months in. Once the place is found, it eats huge quantities of food and stores it in its body in the form of fat. During the months that it sleeps, the bear utilizes the stored fat till the winter is over.
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Badgers are inhabitants of Europe, Asia and North America. They are torpors or temporary hibernators and in winters they store enough food in their burrows, so that they may wake up, eat and go back to sleep again. Badgers are omnivores, that is they eat both plants and animals. Honey badgers, one of the types of badgers are found mostly in Africa and Asia and are nocturnal animals.
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Hedgehogs are spiny mammals and are found in Europe, Africa, New Zealand and Asia. Usually, hedgehogs maintain a constant body temperature, i.e 35 degree centigrade, during summer but at the onset of winter, their temperature drops to 6 degree centigrade in order to cope with the scarcity of food. Hedgehogs go into hibernation for about 2 to 5 months with the males hibernating before the females.
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A hibernating hamster will curl up into a ball in the nest to conserve as much heat as possible in the abdominal region. You will be able to pick the hamster up without him knowing it, and he will not wake up on handling. But close observation will reveal the hamster’s whiskers (vibrissae) are still twitching. The hamster still has to breath when in torpor, although very very slowly this will be seen on close observation. The hamster must be aroused by slowly warming and gentle handling and stroking. After the arousal period it may be noted that hamster may be little groggy and trembling this will last only for a very short time.
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Dormice hibernate from roughly October to May, depending on local climatic conditions. They prepare a den in soft soil or hidden in a cave, and rely on fat reserves to survive through the winter. During hibernation, metabolic rate and body temperature fall dramatically, and the animal may cease breathing altogether for periods of up to an hour.
6. Prairie Dogs
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Prairie dogs hibernate and have a shorter mating season, which generally lasts from January to April. After one month’s gestation, females give birth to one litter per year, an average of four hairless pups. They are born with eyes closed and use their tails as visual aids until they can see, about 40 days after birth. Weaning occurs during late May and early June, when yearlings may break away from the burrow.
7. Fat-Tailed Lemurs
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Recent research has shown that Fat-Tailed Lemurs hibernates, even though in the tropical winter of Madagascar, temperatures remain high. It is the first tropical primate in which hibernation has been demonstrated. However, the Malagasy winter is dry, and it appears that the lemur is avoiding the drought. Unlike animals that hibernate in temperate regions, the lemur does not control its body temperature while hibernating, and if the tree hole in which it is sleeping is not well insulated, its body temperature fluctuates in accordance with the outside temperature.
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Groundhogs are one of the few species that enter into true hibernation, and often build a separate “winter burrow” for this purpose. This burrow is usually in a wooded or brushy area and is dug below the frost line and remains at a stable temperature well above freezing during the winter months. In most areas, groundhogs hibernate from October to March or April, but in more temperate areas, they may hibernate as little as 3 months. To survive the winter, they are at their maximum weight shortly before entering hibernation. They emerge from hibernation with some remaining body fat to live on until the warmer spring weather produces abundant plant materials for food.
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Adult ladybirds hibernate all winter. They snuggle up in dense vegetation, under logs and sometimes become residents of your home, sleeping in door frames, folds in curtains, in sheds and outhouses. If you do find one nesting in your home, spare a thought for the good work they do around your garden and coax it gently into an aired jar and put it in your shed or some other sheltered place to finish its sleep through the winter time.