In spring, summer, and autumn, the woodlands, pastures, gardens and parks are brimming with life. You can hear it all around you, birds singing, and insects buzzing and other animals and creatures scurrying to and fro, going about their daily lives. In winter, by contrast, the countryside seems strangely quiet and you are lucky to see a wild creature, there are not as many around. Many birds migrate to warmer Climates; even some butterflies amazingly migrate on an epic journey. We all know that some animals and insects hibernate in winter, but have you ever wondered why they do so?
Hibernation is where an animal to pass time in a resting state, in which the heartbeat, temperature, and respiration are all much slower than they would be in the active state, in very simple terms a long and very deep sleep. The animal is barely alive and the body all but shuts down. Chemical changes occur within the animal’s brain and they slow the animal’s metabolism right down.
In winter, often an animal’s normal food source might be very scarce; there is not much food for a hedgehog or for bats for example. Another hazard for animals in winter is cold weather, especially as you get further away from the tropical regions of the World. Animals in Northern Europe, in the north of North America and Canada sometimes have to face extreme winter weather with snow and ice for many months. Animals must use up lots of energy just to keep warm and, given the already scarce food supply, it is simply a waste of resources.
Most animals prepare for hibernation by feeding themselves up in the autumn to build up fat layers. These fat layers will sustain them whilst they hibernate. Then, they will find a suitable place in which to hibernate. Some animals hibernate in a burrow or cave, others such as bats may hibernate in church belfries or house attics. Please note that in the United Kingdom, it is illegal to disturb bats, in any way whatsoever, or to block their entry holes even if there are no bats in the roost, even if they are hibernating in your house. The proper course is to consult the Bat Conservation Trust before attempting any timber work or spraying.
Some animals stay “asleep” all winter long, such as bears. Some animals will also birth their young during hibernation. Other animals, such as squirrels, do not truly hibernate but wake up every couple of days and go in search of food. Still yet others do not hibernate at all.
Animals hibernate to make the best use of their resources. Hibernation is an evolutionary adaptation to achieve this. Isn’t nature truly wonderful?