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Hibernation Envy: Time for a Long Winter's Nap?

Would you hibernate if you could? We're deep into daylight-shrinking time here in the northern hemisphere, and many of our fellow mammals (and some other creatures) have already bedded down for a long winter's nap.  

Faced with the extra pressures of the holiday season, I admit to some envy for the European dormouse (shown below), who famously snoozed through the Mad Hatter's tea party in Alice in Wonderland. Lewis Carroll was onto something:  Each fall, the dormouse stuffs itself to twice its usual size (anyone relate?) and then trundles off to bed to conserve energy over the cold months.

Hibernating dormouse
This is no mere post-holiday meal snooze.  The dormouse will stay curled up on its nest of honeysuckle bark—body temperature low, heartbeat quiet, breathing slowed to just a few breaths a minute—for as long as 6 months, until the temps warm up again in spring.

Who else hibernates?  A partial roundup includes:

Some bats
Fat-tailed dwarf lemurs
Ground squirrels – whose abdominal temps may drop below freezing
Groundhogs
European hedgehogs
Prairie dogs
Bees
Earthworms – which may burrow down as far as 8 feet to escape the frost
Frogs in cold climates
Snails
Some snakes
Some fish
Black bears

Hibernating bearsThere's an ongoing debate as to whether bears are "true hibernators," but I'm siding with the North American Bear Center in Ely, Minnesota, where the answer is a firm yes. They even have a video of snoring bears (incredibly loud!) to prove it.

On the other end of the spectrum, there are animals that go into torpor but don't actually hibernate. Body temperature drops and metabolism slows, but not as dramatically or deeply as in hibernation.

 

These animals tend towards torpor:
 
Chipmumks in torporSome bats
Badgers    
Chipmunks
Hamsters
Nighthawks
Poor-wills
Turtles
Hummingbirds
Raccoons (in cold climates)
Skunks
Swifts

After weighing the pros and cons of joining the dormouse while the sugarplums dance this winter, I realized:  I'd miss playing in the snow too much. Especially cross-country skiing.

What would you miss most if you hibernated through the winter?

European dormouse photo courtesy of George McCarthy/Corbis; hibernating bears photo courtesy of the National Park Service; chipmunks in torpor photo courtesy of imgfave.com.

Posted on at 3:29 PM

Tagged: Winter, animals, hibernation, rei and torpor

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Ann B

Fun post, Kelly! Love the snoring bears.

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GearheadSteve

Nice post Kelly! Informative and cute photos of the furry torpor(ing) critters! So, you won't be joining them?

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Cyclelogical

I agree I would miss playing in the snow and being cozy with my family by the fireplace in the evenings. But the thought of hibernating is quite appealing at times! www.cyclelogicalgear.com

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