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  • Writer's pictureAsh, Lead Naturalist

Hibernators of Wisconsin!

Updated: Aug 29, 2020

Written By: Ashley Goldbeck


As winter approaches we tend to spend more time tucked away in our warm cozy houses, hiding from the harsh Wisconsin winter weather. Some animals also have the luxury of skipping the bitter weather by snoozing away in cozy dens or other homes. During hibernation, the heart and breathing rates drop tremendously, as well as the body temperature. Some animals can practically shut themselves off for months at a time, while other animals stay awake to battle the frigid freeze. 

What is Hibernation?

Hibernation is a type of deep sleep an animal enters. This helps to keep its energy needs to the minimum and helps them regulate their body temperatures better. As they are sleeping, they do not need to search for food, and the fat and calorie build up helps them get through their hibernation period. There are different habits followed by animals that hibernate. A squirrel sleeps for about 4 to 5 days at a time and will wake up, eat some of the food it collected during the summer, go to the bathroom and then go back to sleep for another 4 to 5 days. On the other hand, bears can sleep for weeks, months or all winter without a break and wake up fresh and very hungry after winter over

Make it a family Adventure!

Go on a hibernation hunt hike and see if you can find clues or evidence of hibernating animals such as: hollowed out logs or trees, burrows, dens, wood/leaf litter piles, etc. You can also look for tracks and trails of animals still out. If you keep your eyes and ears open you will likely see or hear quite a few animals still scampering around. Feel free to bring paper and a pencil with to sketch or list animals or hibernating homes you find along the way. Use the information and photos below to share with your fellow hikers and guide you to becoming an expert in hibernation. And as always, don’t forget to share what you find with us! 

Which Animals hibernate?

The Answer = All Kinds!

Some Reptiles and Amphibians 

Snakes hibernate during the cold of winter because they're cold-blooded animals. Some snakes hibernate in dens with other species; the black rat snake, for example, often dens with timber rattlesnakes and copperheads. The garter snake is the last snake to go into hibernation and the first to emerge in the spring.

Box turtles, on the other hand, reduce their heart rate to one beat every five to 10 minutes and they stop breathing! 

Frogs hibernate in small creeks, cracks in logs, and in rocky places. They store glucose in their bodies that keeps them from getting frozen. Some species will even hibernate underwater 

Some Insects

Most bees, wasps and their kin hibernate in one way or another. Many species have only one survivor per colony every year: the queen. When the males and workers die off in the fall, the queen finds a safe, warm place to hide until the following spring. Small, protected holes in the ground or under leaf litter are two prime examples of hibernation spots fit for a queen. In many cases, the hibernation lasts for most of the year (6-8 months). Carpenter bees hibernate in the tunnels created by their mother and then emerge in spring to mate and start their own tunnels.

Many Mammals 

Several mammals hibernate during the long, cold winters. Woodchucks are one example of true hibernators. During their hibernation, the woodchuck's heart goes from 80 beats per minute to only 4 or 5. It also drops its body temperature to 60 degrees below normal temperature. Chipmunks and bats are other examples of true hibernators. Bats huddle together in a protected place, such as a cave that stays above freezing. Hedgehogs have been known to stay asleep during the whole winter, something that even other true hibernators can't accomplish.

One Bird 

The only known bird species that hibernates, the Common Poor-will picks up hibernation spots under rocks and logs and stays for four to five months. During this time, it sleeps for around 100 days and the energy levels drop drastically to less than 93%. During this state, the bird has a lowered body temperature, heartbeat, and rate of breathing.

Why do Some Animals Hibernate While Others Don’t?

Whether an animal hibernates or not depends upon how well it copes with winter’s temporary food shortages. Some animals migrate to winter-feeding grounds. Some spend the majority of the year storing up food. Others stay and adapt.

During winter food is scarce. With freezing temperatures, it is no picnic for most animals. To top it off, the days are short and nights are long. Animals end up losing more calories than usual, leaving them weak. This is because their bodies use up more energy to keep them warm, and the other half of their energy is lost in searching for food and shelter. In order to get through these difficult situations, animals have adapted themselves to sleep through the season in order to survive. 

All in all, animals who hibernate cannot adapt to food shortages and save their energy and fat by sleeping.

Examples of Hibernation Homes Here at The Park:

Be sure to look for tracks, traces of scat, or bedding imprints, but keep your distance incase someone is home! You always want to be respectful to animals and their homes as some are very territorial and just like us they all prefer some privacy!

These big dens likely house large mammals like bears, wolves, coyotes, bobcat, etc.

Brush pile dens provide shelter for smaller mammals like: Rabbits, Weasels, fox, raccoons, etc. 

Ground or tree root dens like this are likely homes for: Bear, coyote, badger, fox, bobcat and more.

Hollowed out logs work well as a winter home for many species of animals, both large and small, depending on the size of the log that is!

Have fun and be sure to share some hibernation homes you find out in the woods! We love hearing from you!

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