Wakey Wakey! In December Frontier published a blog going into some of the science of what hibernation is and which animals go through it. Ring any bells? Well, now we’re in March and spring is knocking on the door, it’s a good time to revisit the subject and see who’s soon to be stirring from their winter slumber.
Probably the classic poster child for hibernating in Britain, most hedgehogs will start rubbing the sleep out of their eyes in mid-March. Remember having to check underneath your big pile of leaves and wood on bonfire night last year to see if any hedgehogs were hanging out? That’ll probably be because they were looking for somewhere cosy to curl up for a few months. However, given that this winter has been one of, if not the, warmest and wettest on record, it’s entirely possible that some didn’t hibernate at all.
Britain is home to 18 different species of Bat, 17 of which breed here. That’s a lot, and all of them have been fast asleep for the winter. Unlike a lot of hibernating animals, many bats do wake up on warmer nights during the winter to feed and to drink before bedding back down. Only starting to stir in March, April is the peak time for Bat alarm clocks. Bats also can become torpid again in colder weather once fully awake from hibernation. This is simply lower their body temperature and being inactive, but not fully hibernating.
Did you know that the Hazel or Common Dormouse is one of Britain’s most endangered Mammals? Well, you do now. Mostly due to the loss of habitat, Dormice also have to compete with the likes of the feisty Grey Squirrel for food. Not a great combination admittedly, but their numbers are on the rise. Relative to their size, they live quite a long time, roughly 5 years or so, and this is partly down to long periods of inactivity during the cold winter months during hibernation. No, this doesn’t mean that staying in bed all day makes you live longer, sorry. If the weather really is bad, a Dormouse can hibernate for as much as three quarters of the year! As a result their start date in the year varies hugely but March-April is a close bet.
Without wishing to make you look over your shoulder, Britain’s only poisonous snake is waking up in early spring too! But don’t worry, Adders very rarely attack and, being cold blooded, are far too busy trying to warm up in the British spring, which is a task in itself of course. Couple being cold blooded with not being fussy with their food, and they’re extremely well suited to the hibernation lifestyle. They’ll have a go at anything from mice, voles, birds, insects, eggs and frogs. Just to put your mind at ease, it’s very unlikely you’ll find an Adder in a built up area as generally, they’re found in moors and grasslands so you can come down off from standing on that table.
Not all bumblebees hibernate, only the queen. But she has an interesting and extremely busy spring. As soon as the weather starts to warm the queen will stir and begin gaining energy from nectar before looking for a new nest site. Once that’s found she’ll build up its structure a bit, lay her first brood of eggs and continue feeding on pollen. Before too long the colony will have grown significantly and the queen will cease leaving the nest and lets her workers do that role for her while she lays eggs. This has usually happened by early summer so clearly, waking from hibernation around now is a frantic and busy time for queeney.
Of course, there are lots of other British animals who hibernate who will be waking up around now, like various insects and amphibians, and are getting reading to re-join the world. In a way, after the indoor festivities of Christmas and days when it’s dark at four in the afternoon, we all are waking from a slumber too.
by Guy Bezant - Online Journalism Intern
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