Sunday, December 2, 2012

Who actually hibernates?

For an EXCELLENT read on the habits of
wild critters, check this book out.
On it's less than $11 as
of 12/2/2012
I’ve been a bad blogger lately, sorry! My first semester at SUNY Cobleskill is wrapping up (only 2 weeks left!), I have a 9 week old golden retriever puppy that needs CONSTANT supervision, and most urgently, some unexpected family stuff came up this weekend which kept me busy. But I started this entry last week, and I am making time this evening to finish!

‘Tis the season to be hibernating. Those animals who do hibernate have got it made, in my opinion. They PACK on the pounds and scarf down carbs like no one’s watching, take a long (literally almost comatose) nap, and wake up thin and svelte like the bingeing never happened.

What the heck?!

There are some misconceptions about hibernation, and who actually does it. I’m going to share with you what I’ve learned in my wildlife courses. There are always different schools of thought out there, and if you have learned something different, I encourage you to leave me a comment!

I think a little bit of background information is necessary first. And then tomorrow I’ll share who’s hibernating in NY.

Wild animals have 4 basic adaptations for winter survival: 1) Migrate, 2) Hibernate, 3) Resist, 4) Tolerate.

Some birds, the most common migrators that I’m familiar with, experience a lack of food sources in the colder months as well as they lack physical cold adaptations (body fat stores, heavier fur). They must travel long distances to ride out the colder winter months, and then they return to their summer feeding and often breeding grounds. Other animals that migrate, not necessarily in NY: Caribou, bison, whales, elk.

Hibernation requires a significant drop in body temperature over a long period of time (there are only 3 TRUE hibernators in NYS!). This definition of hibernation is important to keep in mind when I reveal who the hibernators are. Although the action that a certain critter appears to be hibernation, their physiology tells us different.

Resistance includes animals experiencing specialized adaptations like going into torpor and dormancy. Both of these actions can “appear” to be the same as hibernation. But, their body temps, and the length of time they’re in torpor or are dormant can tell us that they aren’t truly hibernating. Examples of animals that going into torpor: black bears, chipmunks, and voles. Examples of animals that go dormant: amphibians and reptiles.

And tolerance is pretty self explanatory…the animals go about their daily business, and most likely have been preparing in some way for the cold months/lack of reliable food sources. Gray and red squirrels, foxes, cottontail rabbits, white-tailed deer, and some songbirds are all local examples.
It’s interesting to think about what these animals do, and these actions are innately engraved into their beings, when the winter is unseasonably warm. I can say with confidence that where I lived in the Finger Lakes last winter, the ground did NOT freeze all winter long. We had scant amounts of snow, but yet the animals still when about their annual business of preparing for winter in one way or another.

Tomorrow I will reveal who the hibernators in NY are!


  1. Nice article Alyssa! I really enjoy reading about winter adaptations of animals. Is the book that you have pictured here, the one that's used in winter ecology?

    1. Yep- get it and read it! It's a good one. Similar to Sand County Almanac in the way that it's a collection of stories and essays, but I think much easier to get through than Aldo's writing.

  2. Your heading words open up a mystery, and then your next words explain. I had no idea about any of this, other than I thought bears hibernated, and from NZ to the North the godwits fly,( migrate) and here Monarch Butterflies take shelter under huge pine trees.Not sure what this is called in technical terms. I wait for your next installment. Greetings from Jean

  3. I like that book too. It is interesting to contemplate that there are so few "true hibernators". It's also interesting that bears are not among them, even though they certainly experience a big slow down in their metabolism. Our bears seem to be following their normal schedule even though we're having insanely warm weather and almost no snow so far this winter.

    Hope your puppy is doing well. Any photos? I'd love to see one!

  4. I have enjoyed some of his other writing but was not aware of this book. Thanks for the recommendation.


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