Hibernation: The Best Way to Survive a Canadian Winter

Chipmunk filling his belly prior to hibernationAlthough many of our furry neighbours can be pests on our property, and sometimes in our homes, they can be pretty clever; especially when they choose to sleep through the darkest, coldest, recently turned polar-vortex time of the year here in Ontario. How many of the animals that we see all summer in Ontario hit the hay for at least five months of the year? Enough to make me think they might really be on to something!

The Squirrel – Squirrels are one of the most commonly spotted rodents in highly urbanized areas, although don’t be surprised if the squirrel population seems to die down in late November. Once in Hibernation squirrels like chipmunks and mice are very difficult to wake up. Their bodies temperature will drop very low, and their heart will only beat 3 – 6 times per minute. The length of hibernation is dependent on the age and sex of the squirrel, but generally adult squirrels will hibernate longer than juvenile squirrels, and female for longer than male.

The Bullfrog – Hibernation is not limited to our warm blooded pests, but amphibians such as bullfrogs also sleep through the winter months. A bullfrog will bury itself in mud by constructing a structure similar to a cave for protection in the winter. Their hibernation spots are usually found from three to 25 meters away from a shoreline. The hibernation routine for frogs differ between species, however it is safe to say that frogs are truly the experts because they can be found all over the world from the Arctic Circle to deserts and tropical rain forests.

Turtles – Hibernation is easy for the turtle, as their shell provides them with a safe, warm place to hide away through storms and snow. Turtles in Ontario can often have a long hibernation period from September all the way until April. Some turtles will bury themselves in the mud under water such as the painted turtle or the snapping turtle. Other turtles must have access to dissolved oxygen in the water such as the northern map turtle.

Hedge Hogs – Hedge Hogs hibernate through the winter, often deep under the backyards and gardens in residential areas. Hedge Hogs only hibernate for the coldest three or four months of the year, when their food source is most scarce.   The heart beat drops during hibernation from a frantic 190 beats per minute to a slow and steady 20 beat per minute rhythm. In extremely cold temperatures the hedge hog will wake up, realize that their present nest is not providing sufficient insulation and will move elsewhere to build another one.

Hamster – Although Hamsters are most commonly seen as household pets and rarely pests, these little critters hibernation patterns are extremely sensitive, and provided with unsuitable temperatures a hamster can slip into hibernation quite quickly. Household hamsters can fall into hibernation if the room they are kept in becomes too cold at night. A hibernating hamster will appear dead at first glance, but when carefully analyzed you will see if the hamster is still faintly breathing. Often a hamster will hibernate laying on his back, with his body cold to the touch and very limp. To wake the hamster up they must be kept very warm, forced to stay awake and rehydrated. Remember to do your hibernation research before taking home any new pet that has natural hibernation patterns!