How Do Animals Survive in Winter?

by Stephanie Schuck | Jan 26, 2021

By Abigail Reihle, Elementary Education and History, '22 | January 26, 2021

The Nina Mason Pulliam EcoLab is home to many animals that hibernate in the winter. Hibernation has always fascinated me because it is a time that animals sleep for a very long period of time. I have certainly wished I could hibernate warmly during the cold winter months. One thing that has I’ve wondered as I think about hibernation is, what animals actually hibernate and what is their hibernation like?  ecolab pond

One of the first animals that I researched is groundhogs, which is one of the species that call the EcoLab their home. Groundhogs are known for hibernating because of the holiday Groundhog’s Day, which is popular due to the celebration in Pennsylvania. A town will gather and see if Phil the groundhog can see his shadow as he steps out of his hibernating home. It is said to predict how much longer winter will last. The holiday also became popular after the “Groundhog Day” movie came out. Groundhogs start hibernating in October or November and become active again in mid to late February. The groundhogs’ winter burrows are located in wooded areas whereas in the summer it would be in an open field or meadow. They go into a very intense state of sleep and resting period during hibernation. The body temperature of the groundhog can drop from 99 degrees Fahrenheit to as low as 37 degrees! Additionally, groundhogs will have a lower heartbeat during this time of inactivity and go around 150 days without eating. Fascinating!

Another animal that can be found in the EcoLab that hibernates is the salamander. There are many different species of salamander, and we have found two (the two-lined and marbled salamanders) in the EcoLab. This is an animal that may hibernate in two different places. One option is to bury itself into the soil, or the other option would be to bury itself into the mud at the bottom of a pond. When a salamander digs into the ground to bury itself, it goes deep enough to be free from risk of frost and allowing itself to maintain a steady temperature during its hibernation. GBheron_footprint_2015

Common animals that we see in the EcoLab that do not hibernate are the squirrels, rabbits, and beavers. I was not fully aware that these animals do not hibernate in the winter until I spoke with Stephanie Schuck, our Restoration Ecologist. She informed me that the squirrels are typically burying their food sources in order to relocate it when it is hard to find in the winter. As they do this, it is inevitable that they forget where they buried a few nuts and acorns, which then will be able to germinate and grow into a tree! As for the beavers of the EcoLab, look for a future blog to see how they survive the cold winter season! 

So why should we care about animals in hibernation? We at Marian University are called to live out the Franciscan Values. Responsible Stewardship asks us to care for God’s creation, and it is simply asking us to protect all life on Earth! By continuing to restore, conserve and protect forests and wooded areas, we can continue to keep habitats healthy and reap the benefits of the ecosystem services that these natural areas provide for us as well. Hibernation is important in many animals’ survival and a safe home is key to hibernation!

​References:
Groundhogs Fact Sheet. https://www.pbs.org/wnet/nature/blog/groundhogs-facts/
Header. DNR: Groundhog (Woodchuck). https://www.in.gov/dnr/fishwild/5694.htm
Kaplan, M. Salamanders and Newts. http://www.anapsid.org/sallies.html