Hibernation burns calories, also slows down to save

Hibernation is a fascinating safety measure taken by animals to survive during cold winter months.

In this lesson, you will learn about animals that hibernate, why hibernation is important and how it is done. Continue reading to explore interesting information about hibernation.

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What’s Hibernation?

Think about how people change to prepare for cold winter months. They wear coats, hats, gloves and boots to stay warm. Eating hot soup or drinking hot chocolate also warms people up. Heaters or fireplaces provide warmth too, and can be fun when roasting marshmallows! All of these things are done to protect people during harsh, winter weather.However, animals don’t have these options.

Some animals are not able to survive the extremely cold and tough winters. Therefore, they go through a process called hibernation. Hibernation is when some animals have long periods of deep sleep during cold weather. To help them prepare, hibernating animals eat lots of food during the fall so they can survive the cold and dangerous winter. Their metabolism, or rate the body burns calories, also slows down to save energy.

Bears Hibernating in a Den
Hibernating Bears in Den

Why Is Hibernation Important?

Hibernation is extremely important to the survival of some animals. During the winter months, the food that animals eat becomes scarce, or not available. This is because many plants stop producing leaves and seeds that animals eat.

Smaller prey animals used for food may move to warmer locations or hibernate, which reduces the food supply. Outdoor temperatures also become dangerously cold. Therefore, animals without thick, protective fur or the ability to warm up can freeze. So, hibernation gives animals a break from searching for food and surviving in cold temperatures. Instead, they find a safe shelter to hide in and sleep throughout the winter season.

What Animals Hibernate?

Most animals that hibernate live in climates that get very cold.

These animals include bears, ground squirrels, groundhogs, hedgehogs, rodents, mice, raccoons, bats, wood frogs, woodchucks, turtles, and some insects.

Hibernating Bat in a Cave
Hibernating Bat in a Cave

How Do Animals Hibernate?

Animals have instincts that tell them to begin preparing for the winter months early. So, during autumn, animals store food or eat lots of food to gain extra weight, since they will usually not eat during hibernation.

Bears can gain up to 30 pounds per week! All of this extra weight gives them the energy they need to survive during hibernation. Then, their body produces a chemical that makes them sleepy. So, they find a safe cave, den, dead tree, log or hole to hibernate for many days, weeks or months.

What Happens to Animals’ Bodies During Hibernation?

Have you ever noticed that after you run a race, your heart beats faster and you breathe quicker? This causes you to burn more energy than usual. Animals do the opposite during hibernation. Their heart rate slows down, and they sleep to save energy and make their extra weight last longer.

For example, a woodchuck’s breathing and heartbeat slows down from about 80 to 4 beats per minute! Their temperature also drops to near freezing to use less energy. A woodchuck will also wake up briefly to shiver if it gets too cold, just like you do! Shivering increases its temperature. On the other hand, bears’ temperatures only slightly decrease, but their heartbeat will slow down from about 50 to 10 beats per minute to save energy. When spring arrives and the weather warms up, animals stop hibernating.

Squirrel Awakening After Hibernation
Squirrel After Hibernation

Lesson Summary

Hibernation is when animals have long periods of deep sleep during winter. Their breathing and heart rate slow down to save energy and their temperatures also drop during hibernation.

This is important because it saves animals from having to survive during winter, when there is little food available and temperatures become dangerously cold.


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