It’s beginning to get icy and cold outside. Everyone is digging out their warmest coats, gloves and hats, and although it’s nice to get outside, it’s also tempting to stay inside in the warm, snuggle up with a blanket and hide away.
Lots of mammals like to hide away over the winter, spending the cold winter months when there isn’t much food hibernating in their burrows.
But hibernation is much more than just sleeping through the winter. It’s a special way mammals can cope with spending months and months without food in cold temperatures.
There are only 3 mammals in the UK that hibernate: hedgehogs, dormice and bats.
To get ready for hibernation, animals need to make sure they’ve eaten plenty of food over the summer and autumn before. This food gets turned into fat which is helpful in two ways: it helps keep the animal warm by lying in a layer under the skin and helping keep warmth in the animal’s body, and it’s also used as an energy source instead of food over the winter.
Mammals like hedgehogs and bats that hibernate actually change the way their body works while they are in hibernation. They lower their body temperature and slow their breathing, so they aren’t using as much of their energy reserves to keep their body warm.
But because these mammals are very small, it’s very important that they don’t get disturbed from their hibernation before the spring comes, or they might use up their stored energy and not have enough to keep them alive.
Happily, there are things you can do to help!
Hedgehogs love to snuggle into piles of leaves and twigs, so the first thing you can do is leave areas of your garden with piles of leaves. Out of the way, in corners or at the back of the garden where they’re not likely to be disturbed is best. Secondly, if you are planning a bonfire, make sure you check it first to make sure a hedgehog hasn’t gone their to hibernate. And thirdly, if you
Dormice are tiny little mouse-like rodents that love to live in corn fields. They’re also endangered and very rare so you’d be very lucky to find one! The best way you can help them is by finding your local wildlife trust and give them a hand creating nest boxes and protecting areas they live in.
There are 18 species of bats in the UK, and they are amazing little animals. Bats cluster together in roosts, which tend to be dark, quiet spaces like caves, tunnels, attics and old buildings. If you discover a bat roost, you should firstly make sure you don’t disturb any of the bats living there. Secondly, you should contact your local wildlife trust or the Bat Conservation Trust and let them know, because bats and their roosts are protected by law.
If you are lucky enough to know where any of these mammals are hibernating over winter, you have the special task of making sure they are safe over the long, cold months. And of course, the excitement of waiting to spot when they wake up and emerge in spring!