So you want to learn about animals that hibernate? When you think of an animal hibernating you probably think about a bear, but did you know that other animals hibernate too? An animal will hibernate when the food supply runs low and the temperatures drop, causing it to be too cold to wander about. Some might go into a deep sleep while others will just slow down but remain active. Some animals, such as most birds are smart enough to run away to warmer climates during the winter months where the food supply never runs short and they can stay warm.
The following is a list of 15 animals that hibernate along with their characteristics:
You might mistake these tiny creatures for a baby squirrel. That could be because they belong in the squirrel family. Much like the squirrel, they also love nuts, and burrowing is a common habit they have acquired. You can watch chipmunks play in the spring, summer, and fall, but in the winter, they enter their hibernation process.
Chipmunk Characteristics: Chipmunks average in size from 2 to 6-inches in length with a 3-inch tail. They usually weigh less than 1-pound. They are usually brown and yellow with grey fur sporting a black and white stripe down their back.
Where Chipmunks Hibernate: You will find the chipmunks digging a burrow as far as 3-feet under the ground usually directly under or next to a cover to stay protected from their predators. During their active daytime periods, later in the summer and early fall, you will often enjoy watching them as they nestle their nuts between their cheeks taking them to their burrows to save for their winter hibernation.
During the Hibernation Period: During the winter, the chipmunk’s body temperature will drop drastically. They will sleep heavily waking occasionally for food, and not be seen again until springtime when they will play. During the late summer, they will work hard once again, collecting food to prepare for the next winter.
These guys and girls might look cuddly and playful, but don’t let their looks fool you, they are dangerous animals to encounter. They prey on animals and humans and a hungry bear makes an angry bear, so if you meet one of these creatures, don’t try and cuddle and play, go the other way.
Bear Characteristics: Although most people learn to recognize a bear at a very young age, there are different types of bears and each one has a different color. They are each known to live in different parts of the world and they can range in color from black to brown and even grey. Unlike most animals, bears walk flat footed and can climb a tree in the blink of an eye. Bears living in cold climates hibernate when the food is scarce, but the bears in warmer climates can find plenty of food all year long so they have no reason to hibernate.
Where Bears Hibernate: Bears hibernate in their dens. A den can be built in hollow trees, the crevices of rocks, hillsides, under the root system of trees, caves, and even under leaves and brush. When a bear hibernates in a cave or rock crevice, it is very rare that the same bear will hibernate there again the following winter, however, another family won’t hesitate to move right in.
During the Hibernation Period: While most animals spend all summer harvesting their winter feast, the bear will double up on their food intake toward the end of the summer and fall so they can spend the winter catching up on their sleep. Once they are in hibernation, they will sleep heavily never to wake again until the spring arrives. The mama bears will wake up in January or February to give birth to her new cubs, and the babies will be happy nestling with mama until she can take them out on their first adventure. When the bears come out of their dens once again, they will feed on the animals that didn’t survive the winter. They will also hunt other animals along with berries, insects, and nuts. Bears also enjoy the sap from trees, branches, and roots. When a bear lives near the water, they enjoy an occasional salmon treat.
These creatures can tend to get a bit creepy especially when they fly low above your head during the day in circles of confusion. This is because they have small eyes and it’s harder for them to see during the day. They do a much better job flying at night when there is little to no light.
Bat Characteristics: When you can get close enough to look at a bat you might think of it as a rat with wings. They are black in color with wings that look like rubber. The smallest bat is 1.1 to 1.3- inches in length, weighing 0.071 to 0.92- ounces and has a wingspan of 5.9-inches. The largest bat is a bit heavier weighing 3.5- pounds and has a wingspan of 5.6-feet.
Where Bats Hibernate: Not all bats hibernate; some either already live in a warmer climate or they choose to head toward the warmer climates when the food supply starts to run low. Those bats choosing to stay behind usually find comfort sharing wall space in dark, quiet caves. Bats are not afraid of sharing space with humans during the cold months though. They often find comfort living near houses in hollowed trees, barns, and other outside buildings. Don’t be surprised though if they take up space in your attic, crawl spaces, or in your basement. They’re not picky as long as they have a warm, quiet, dark space to sleep.
During the Hibernation Period: Unlike the other animals that stock up their food supply for the winter, the bats will manage to fall into a deep sleep for more than six months. Their body temperatures drop significantly during this time and their metabolism slows down so much that their heart rate falls very shallow. They begin their hibernation process from late fall until about the middle part of March.
4.) Box Turtles
Many people have box turtles as pets. That’s cool, but you must remember that they are still undomesticated and of a wild nature. That doesn’t mean they are in the same category as a wild bear, but they are not as domesticated as a dog or cat. Even though you might have a pet turtle, you will need to respect its time for hibernation, and you can even help during the process.
Box Turtle Characteristics: The top dome-shaped shell and the bottom flat shell is the way a young child can recognize this creature as a turtle. They can hide their entire, soft body inside their shell when they feel threatened. They vary in size and they have no teeth, instead, they use their horny beak to cut through their food. The young turtles enjoy eating worms, insects, snails, and small vertebrates, whereas the adults enjoy a healthier consumption of vegetation and fungi.
Where Turtles Hibernate: When turtles are ready for hibernation, they don’t have far to go. They just crawl inside their shell and sleep.
During the Hibernation Period: The time of the year a turtle hibernates varies depending on the kind of turtle and the climate, but you can usually expect them to disappear inside their shell sometime between mid-September and mid-October. Once they go into hibernation you won’t expect to see them come back to full life for another 3 to 4-months. During that time, they might come out for water, but then they will go right back in. If you have a pet turtle you will know when they are preparing to hibernate because they will stop eating as much and you should stop feedings 14-days before they disappear into their shell. You should, however, keep a constant supply of water within their reach. They need to go into hibernation with a clear gastronomical track.
Who knew that bumblebees hibernate in the winter? When you think about it unless you live in a very warm climate, do you ever walk outside in the winter and encounter a bee? They must go someplace, so where do they go? They don’t fly south like birds do.
Bumblebees Characteristics: You probably know what a bee looks like, but there is a difference between a bumblebee and a honeybee. Bumblebees are bigger and fuzzy with short wings. Although they do produce a little bit of honey that is the honeybees job. Instead, the bumblebees are pollinators, and that’s just as important. Bumblebees travel in large colonies of 50 to 500 bees at one time with the queen bee in charge of them all.
Where Bumblebees Hibernate: During the fall, all the bees die, leaving just the queen bumblebee to hibernate and get ready to begin her new colony in the spring. The queen bee will dig into the soil on the side of a north facing bank to avoid the winter sun. She will then stay there until the spring arrives.
During the Hibernation Period: There is no need for the queen to eat while she is in hibernation because she will fill up on pollen during the spring and summer months. She will be plump enough to go to sleep and stay healthy the entire period of hibernation.
6.) Garter Snake
There are several different types of snakes, some are more harmful than others; the garter snake is one of the less dangerous and is often kept as pets.
Garter Snake Characteristics: Although these snakes are not harmful to humans, some of them do contain a mild venom. You will see them in different colors and they might have a yellowish or greenish stripe down the front and two more underneath the body. They are generally 23 to 30-inches in length but have been known to grow to be 5- feet long. You will find them moving around quite quickly during the day and you should be aware they might be in vines or shrubs.
Where Garter Snakes Hibernate: Garter snakes like to make their homes in woodlands, grassy areas, and meadows, where they will also make their dens for hibernation during the winter.
During the Hibernation Period: The cold-climate garters will hibernate in their dens during the winter months. They will travel to find just the right den with the perfect number of snakes to curl up with, the more the better. Dens have been found with more than 8000 snakes at a time, hovered on top of each other.
From a distance you might mistake the hedgehog for a porcupine with the prickly spines it wears on its back and although it is an exotic animal, it still isn’t as common of a pet such as a hamster would be.
Hedgehog Characteristics: These little creatures are cute to look at with their big black eyes and their tiny snout staring at us. They sport a prickly back and a furry belly. They can grow to be 5 to 12-inches long and weigh an average of 14 to 39-ounces. They grunt like a pig while looking for their dinner that consists of such things as insects, mice, snails, frogs, worms, and snakes. Not all hedgehogs hibernate, and the ones that do don’t go into a heavy sleep, in fact, you might even see them come out for food occasionally during hibernation.
Where Hedgehogs Hibernate: The hedgehogs that hibernate can be found burrowing in small, dry, sheltered areas safely away from their enemies. They like to keep their house under sheds, in old rabbit holes, on or under wood piles, in compost heaps, and they enjoy living amongst the tree roots. The object is for the hedgehog to stay warm, but when they start to feel cold, they won’t mess around with building a warmer bed in their established home, they will just move out and find residency elsewhere.
During the Hibernation Period: During hibernation, the body temperature of the hedgehog will fall to match the temperature of the environment they are living in. They will stop moving, their heart rate will drop drastically, and they will even stop breathing for some time. They need to weigh at least 600-grams to live through hibernation and providing they have stored enough body fats, they should be okay.
8.) Land Snail
Another hibernating creature that you probably never thought of is the land snail. This one is a little different in its hibernation habits.
Land Snail Characteristics: Snails have a slimy body and they live inside a shell. They don’t crawl out into a new shell as they grow because their shell will grow with them. Like turtles, when the snail feels threatened it will go back inside the shell to hide. They are nocturnal and are not thrilled with the sun or a lot of light. If they are subject to light for a long time they will quit eating and stay in their shell. They measure from 3-centimeters to 12-inches in length and they enjoy a buffet of plants.
Where Snails Hibernate: They are smart enough to find places where frost doesn’t exist when it comes to finding their new winter home. They will look for places under rocks, in leaves, or in corners of buildings. They might find a place to dwell together with several of their friends.
During the Hibernation Period: Just before the first sight of frost the snail will begin the hibernation process. Once it finds a place to stay, it will go inside its shell and cover itself, including the opening to the shell, with its own slime. It will stay attached to its winter home for 4 to 6-months.
9.) Fat-Tailed Dwarf Lemurs
These cute little boys and girls can be found living in the dry forest areas of western and southern Madagascar, that is if they’re not in their long hibernation period.
Fat-Tailed Dwarf Lemurs Characteristics: Their tiny noses and big eyes will capture your heart and their human-like hands will have you saying “aww.” You probably never realized they store their fat from the food they eat in their tail, thus their name fat-tailed. They rely on that fat to keep them alive during their hibernation period. They are completely nocturnal, and they can grow up to weigh 0.4 to 0.6-pounds. They enjoy a meal of nectar from fruit and flowers, and occasionally they will inhale a bug or a small vertebrate.
Where Fat-Tailed Lemurs Hibernate: They feel comfort in shelters such as a hollow tree and the company of other friends will please them just fine.
During the Hibernation Period: A fat-tailed dwarf lemur will hibernate for about 6-months and during that time they live off the fat they have stored in their tails from everything they ate in the warmer months. They will survive a long sleep and they experience a lower body temperature and heart rate. You might find them curled up with others because they will huddle up to five at a time without a squabble.
10.) Wood Frogs
Did you know that these tiny creatures will freeze but not die? During their hibernation process they might appear to be dead, but don’t give up on them, they will be back in the spring.
Wood Frog Characteristics: These little guys and girls enjoy their life in the forest. They spend the warm months eating whatever they can find crawling beneath them on the floor of the forest. You might find them in a nearby swamp or maybe playing on a bog or in a ravine. They are from 2.0 to 2.8-inches long and the females are always larger than the males. They are usually showing off in a tan, rust, or brown color body with a dark eye mask. If you stumble across a frog that isn’t wearing a mask, it’s probably not a wood frog.
Where Wood Frogs Hibernate: This creature isn’t picky, he will just bury himself under the ground or leafy area of his dwelling and he will stay there until the hibernation period is over.
During the Hibernation Period: Once the temperatures decrease below zero, the frog will bury itself, at which time he will stop breathing completely and his heart will stop pumping. Most of the water in his body will turn to ice and he will become frozen, but he won’t die. Once spring arrives and the ice in his body begins to melt, he will start breathing and his heart will start pounding again. The frog will be just like new and ready to find a mate until next winter sets in.
11.) Common Poorwills
When all the other birds fly off to warmer climates, this bird prefers to stay put and enjoy some time in hibernation until the warm weather springs up once again.
Common Poorwill Characteristics: The only bird known to hibernate, this tiny creature could resemble a small version of the owl in the appearance of its face. Just like the owl, this bird is also nocturnal. Their colors are mixed with black, grey, and brown so it’s easy for them to blend in with nature. They range from 7.5 to 8.3-inches in length and weigh from 1.3 to 1.9- ounces. You will find them living in open areas surrounded by grass and shrubs, this area makes it easy for them to chow on their favorite insects.
Where Common Poorwills Hibernate: They will spend their hibernation period hiding inside a hollow log or they will find a comfortable place in a patch of grass.
During the Hibernation Period: During this time the bird will survive on the fat intake from all the insects it ate before hibernation. Its metabolism will lower along with its body temperature, breathing, and heart rate. The common poorwill will remain in a deep sleep for several weeks or even months.
Unlike the other animals on our list, the skunk doesn’t go into complete hibernation during the winter but will become less active while trying to stay warm.
Skunks Characteristics: Everyone knows that if you catch a glimpse of a white and black fluffy tail creature you won’t want to get too close. The skunk is famous for that horrible smell they spray when they are in fear. They weigh on average between 6 to 10-pounds and are 20 to 30-inches long including their tail. They are not picky eaters but prefer to eat plants and animal matter. During the winter they thrive on the taste of a yummy grub. They are usually found living in hollow trees and logs. You might encounter a skunk while cleaning up leaves and they don’t mind taking up house in an abandoned hole once occupied by another animal.
Where Skunks Hibernate: In the winter they will begin to move closer to human habitat, so they can stay close to food and water while staying warm. They will huddle together under porches or other structures. Don’t be surprised to find your garden or lawn full of holes because in the winter the skunks know the grubs are hibernating underground, and they love to eat those grubs.
During the Hibernation Period: Since they don’t go into complete hibernation like other animals, they will still get very cold and stay close to sources providing heat, food, and water. They will huddle together to sleep and stay warm. During this time, it is more likely for humans to discover a family living under a porch or in the garage.
13.) Deer Mice
These pesky little creatures won’t go into complete hibernation during the winter months, but you will most likely encounter them nesting in your territory.
Deer Mice Characteristics: These little creatures have a cute little-pointed noise with big beady black eyes. They have a round body with a short skinny tail. They have a light brown and red color on top of their body and their feet and underbelly are white. They sport fine hairs on their tail with a dark top and light bottom. Although they might look cute, they carry a virus that can be dangerous to humans. They will burrow in trees and can be found nesting under stones or logs. In the winter months, they are not shy about inviting themselves into human habitat where they are often found trying to keep warm in attics and basements. They love to eat nuts, berries, seeds, small fruits, and insects, so they will make their way into your cupboards when they get hungry.
Where Deer Mice Hibernate: During the winter months they will find a place to nest where they can find the best source of heat, food, and water. Unfortunately, that usually means they will take up residency with human life. Humans might never encounter the rodent because they are afraid of people, but they will leave a trail making it obvious they are living there. Their nests are commonly made of seed, fur, weeds, and paper, so be aware if you find pieces ripped out of your paper.
During the Hibernation Period: Although they don’t fall into a deep sleep, they do tend to slow down a bit during this time. They will hoard as much food as they can find and take it to their warm nest, so they won’t have to exercise as much when it’s cold.
14.) Prairie Dogs
These are not really dogs, but rather a rodent the size of a rabbit. They don’t fully hibernate, but they do slow down during the winter months.
Prairie Dog Characteristics: These family-oriented rodents are quite social and build their homes and villages underground, leaving enough light and space at either end of the tunnel to keep watch on their prey. Their homes are unique with enough rooms for sleep, play, and even a bathroom. Each family group consists of one adult male, at least one adult female, and their offspring. Their body measures 12 to 15-inches in length, their tail is 3 to 4-inches long, and they weigh 2 to 4-pounds. They enjoy a buffet that includes flowering plants, seeds, grass, roots, and the occasional insect or two.
Where Prairie Dogs Hibernate: They will find comfort curling up with their families in their underground tunnels all year round, but they stay at “home” more during the winter months.
During the Hibernation Period: They never go into a full state of hibernation and they will continue to come out during the day to gather the food they need for their families. They do however go into a state of torpor at night when their heart rate lowers and their breathing shallows causing their metabolism to lower. As the winter months continue they will fall into a deeper torpor but they will never fully hibernate.
15.) Ground Squirrel
The habits of this rodent mimic those of the prairie dog. They are in the squirrel family, but they are more likely to hide underground rather than in the trees.
Ground Squirrel Characteristics: These look the same as tree squirrels with their long bushy tails and their sharp claws used for digging and climbing. They are brown in color with tints of gray and off-white spots on their back. They like to venture into open grasslands and can be found wandering through meadows, grain fields, and sneak around residential areas and buildings. Much like the prairie dogs, these rodents also burrow underground in community tunnels.
Where Ground Squirrels Hibernate: Not all ground squirrels hibernate, but those that do choose to stay in their underground homes for their winter rest.
During the Hibernation Period: Although they never fall into a deep sleep, they will slow down quite a bit during the winter months. When they are asleep their body temperature, heart rate, and breathing decreases drastically, slowing down their metabolism. They will wake up for nourishment, and they might even sneak out of their tunnel for a short time during a warmer day.
There you have it, 15 animals that hibernate. This can be a great teaching lesson for your class. Want to get hands on with animals? Try some of our animal themed community service ideas.