Despite what you may have heard, animals don’t actually sleep while hibernating. Instead, their metabolism slows down. This allows them to survive on fewer resources than they usually could.
Hibernating helps animals survive during periods when the environment is not optimal. For example, it may be too hot or cold, or there may be a food shortage. Some researchers even believe hibernation can protect animals from predators.
Small mammals make up most hibernating animals. This is because it takes a lot of energy to keep their bodies warm over winter. Some large animals, like bears, hibernate as well. Besides that, animals like amphibians and insects also hibernate.
If you’re intrigued, keep reading to learn about 13 common animals that hibernate.
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13 Hibernating Animals Listed
Bears are omnivorous mammals who range in size from 4 to 8 ft (1.2-2.4 m) tall and 60-1,600 lbs (27.2-725.7 kg). The smallest bear is the sun bear, while the largest is the polar bear.
Bears live throughout North America, South America, Europe, and Asia.
During the winter, grizzly and black bears can hibernate for over 100 days at a time. During this period, they live off a layer of fat built within their body. Although they may wake up during this time, they can go the entire period without eating, drinking, or eliminating waste.
Unlike “true” hibernators, bears wake up frequently throughout their hibernation. Having this capability protects them from predators and other threats.
Females even come out of hibernation to give birth to up to four cubs.
There are over 1,400 species of bats across the world. They can live in almost any climate except polar regions and extreme deserts.
The smallest bat is the Kitti’s hog-nosed bat, which is also the smallest mammal in the world. It weighs less than a single penny. The largest bat is the flying fox, which has a wingspan of over 6 ft (1.8 m).
Bats are one of the most well-known hibernators, but not all species hibernate. Some species, like the spotted bat, migrate to warmer climates during the winter.
A bat’s wings are like a human hand with stretched skin between each digit. They have long finger bones and moveable joints that make them agile fliers. They are the only mammal in existence that can fly.
White-nose syndrome is the biggest threat to bats. It affects bats as they hibernate, forming a white fungus on their muzzles and wings. The disease has killed over 90% of northern long-eared, tri-colored, and little brown bats.
There are over 3,000 species of snakes around the world. Of that 3,000 species, only 600 are venomous. However, only about 200 produce enough venom to kill or significantly harm a human.
Antarctica, Iceland, Greenland, Ireland, and New Zealand are the only places where snakes don’t live in.
There are about 70 species that live in the sea in the Indian and Pacific oceans.
The snakes in the ocean are some of the most venomous in the world. But they are also the most elusive and shy species, so they pose almost no threat to humans.
Five species of snakes can fly. Flying snakes are part of the Chrysopelea family and live in parts of South and Southeast Asia. They can’t truly fly but use strong updrafts to glide through the air. Researchers believe they use these abilities to escape predators and travel between trees.
There are over 4,675 species of lizards around the world.
Lizards are reptiles related to snakes. Some lizards lack limbs and are easily mistaken for snakes. Most have a small head and short neck accompanied by a long, slender body and tail.
Some lizards, like geckos, can’t blink to protect their eyes from debris. Instead, a clear membrane covers their eyes to protect them from dust and the sun. They even slide their slick tongue across their eyeball to help clear it of dust and dirt.
They also use those tongues to smell and sense the world around them. This is a quality also shared by snakes. The tongue catches scent particles in the air and transfers them to the roof of the mouth. The top of the mouth contains sensory cells that give the lizard an idea of what individuals are around them.
There are over 20,000 species of bees living around the world except for Antarctica.
A bee is an insect, which means its body is divided into a head, a thorax, and an abdomen. Two antennae sit atop the head, and six legs adorn the thorax. Bees also have two pairs of wings and branched hair on their body.
A little-known fact is that only females have stingers. Stingers are modified organs that were once used to lay eggs.
Bees evolved from carnivorous wasps but now feed only on nectar. Nectar is pollen rich in protein comprising sugar. Bees collect pollen by sitting on a flower. Some of the pollen sticks to their body, which then pollinates other flowers the bee sits on.
Some bees collect pollen through buzz pollination or “sonication.” They vibrate their flight muscles while sitting on a flower to loosen the pollen. Sonication simply makes it easier for bees to collect pollen than the traditional way.
6. Stink Bugs
There are over 5,000 species of stink bugs around the world. Stink bugs are part of the order Hemiptera, meaning they are true bugs.
They have membranous wings that fold over their back when they’re resting. Their mouths are straw-like, capable of piercing into the body of other bugs before sucking.
They get their name from the foul odor they produce as a defense mechanism. Stink bugs emit the odor when they feel threatened and crushed.
Most people consider these bugs as pests that eat crops and other plants. Light attracts them, and they seek refuge in people’s homes when the weather becomes cold. In many places, they are invasive and take over in massive numbers.
There are about 17,500 species of butterflies around the world, with about 750 species living in the United States.
Butterflies and moths are the only insects whose wings have scales. They can also coil their proboscis, another characteristic unique to butterflies.
Many butterflies migrate to warmer weather over winter. For example, the monarch butterfly travels to California and Mexico.
Others stay in areas of cold weather and hibernate. There is only one stage of their life in which each species can survive hibernation.
The purplish copper butterfly overwinters as eggs laid on leaves or twigs. The Baltimore checkerspot butterfly hibernates as a caterpillar, burrowing into leaf litter shortly before fall.
Some swallowtail butterflies overwinter in their chrysalises. Other species, like the mourning cloak butterfly, overwinter as adults, taking shelter beneath bark.
Snails are a type of mollusk related more closely to octopuses than insects. There are about 725 species of land snails all around the world. Land snails prefer to live in forests, old fields, and wetlands.
Snails are great indicators of a land’s history. This is largely because they don’t move much throughout their lifetime. Their bodies absorb calcium and toxins, giving researchers a glimpse into the past.
Spiders are arachnids, animals related to scorpions, mites, and ticks. There are over 45,000 different species of spiders around the world.
The smallest spider, the Samoan moss spider, is only 0.011 in (0.027 cm) long. At the same time, the Goliath birdeater tarantula has legs almost 1 ft (0.3 m) long.
Every species of spider produces silk, regardless of if they create webs. Silk is a protein-packed fiber that serves several purposes. Spiders use it to climb, adhere themselves to surfaces, create nests, trap prey, and create egg sacs.
There are over 30,000 different species of wasps. You can distinguish wasps from bees because their lower abdomens are pointed, and they have a petiole.
The petiole separates the abdomen from the thorax and is narrow. Wasps can come in all different colors, but generally, the brighter the wasp, the more likely it is to sting.
Wasps may be social or solitary. Social wasps are rare and only comprise about 1,000 of all wasp species. Social wasps, like yellow jackets and hornets, are more dangerous because they build large colonies.
Before winter each year, a queen wasp is fertilized and goes into hibernation. The next spring, when she wakes up, she creates an entire colony. By the end of summer, a colony may comprise 5,000 individuals, all of whom die come winter.
Solitary wasps, like cicada killers and tarantula hawks, do not form colonies. Instead, they rely on their stingers to hunt.
Caterpillars are the larvae of butterflies and moths. There are about 17,500 species of butterflies and over 160,000 species of moths in the world.
They have six legs like all insects, but they also have up to five pairs of legs with hooks to help them grip things.
Many people consider caterpillars to be pests because they mostly eat plants. The parent lays their eggs on the plant, so when the eggs hatch, the caterpillars immediately begin feeding on the plant.
Once they get old enough, caterpillars will go through metamorphosis, where they transform into a butterfly or moth. Then, they enter the pupa stage, where they form a chrysalis that protects them while they change into their adult form.
There are over 5,000 known species of frogs that inhabit every territory except Antarctica.
Frogs hibernate underwater, burying themselves in mud. They can breathe through their skin, so they absorb oxygen from the water while they’re hibernating. When necessary, they will wake from hibernation to swim around to get their oxygen levels up.
Many frogs are slimy because they have a mucus covering that keeps their skin moist.
When their skin stays moist, they are better able to absorb oxygen from the water. Sometimes, the mucous contains antibacterial or antifungal properties that protect the frog from infection.
There are over 800 species of freshwater and saltwater eels around the world. Eels are a type of fish that looks like a snake but aren’t related to snakes at all.
All eels, whether freshwater or saltwater, spawn in saltwater. Freshwater eels live in rivers for most of their lives. But when they become sexually mature, they will travel thousands of miles to the Sargasso Sea. Once there, they will spawn and then immediately die.
Once the eggs hatch, the larvae immediately begin making their way toward fresh water.
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Why Do Animals Hibernate?
Hibernation is a way for animals to conserve energy. We often associate hibernation with winter, but there are tropical species that practice hibernation as well.
There are several reasons an animal may go into hibernation:
– To conserve energy during the cold
– To stay cool in extreme heat
– To avoid food shortages
Research shows that animals may even hibernate to avoid predators. Animals that hibernate are nearly impossible to detect. So, animals who are active are in more danger from predation than those hibernating.
How Do Animals Stay Alive During Hibernation?
Animals that hibernate are not sleeping.
Rather, they enter a state of torpor. Torpor is when the metabolism slows down to less than 5% of its normal functioning.
As a result, their body processes slow down significantly, and some may even stop completely.
To reduce their metabolism function, their bodies cool by 5° to 10°C (9° to 18°F).
For example, dwarf lemurs have a normal heart rate of about 300 bpm. When they hibernate, their heart rate drops to about six bpm or less. They can even go up to 10 minutes without taking a single breath.
Can You Wake Up A Bear In Hibernation?
Animals who hibernate don’t stay “asleep” the entire time they’re hibernating. Rather, they wake up and warm up their bodies frequently. As a result, they spend about 80% of their conserved energy waking up.
Plus, bears are not “true” hibernators. True hibernators are nearly impossible to wake because their body leaves them completely incapacitated.
A bear’s body doesn’t go through changes as extreme. Instead, their body stays within 12°F of its normal temperature. This allows them to wake up easier and react to danger.
Which Animal Hibernates The Most?
There is no definitive answer for which animal hibernates the most.
The European edible dormouse (Glis glis) is the top choice because it hibernates for over 11 months out of the year.
There is also the big brown bat (Eptesicus fuscus) that hibernated in a fridge for 344 days. But, because the hibernation was forced, it’s not natural for them to hibernate for so long.
There is even the wood frog (Lithobates sylvaticus) who stops breathing entirely. Their heart completely stops, too. They find a place to hide before their body shuts down and ice crystals form in their blood.