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Hibernation is important for many animals to survive the cold season. In addition to bears, the epitome of hibernating animals, there are bats, marmots and, of course, hedgehogs. The insectivores depend on this form of winter dormancy to survive until the following spring. Many people ask themselves when the Erinaceidae begin their sleep phase and how long it lasts.
Why do hedgehogs hibernate?
Winter is hard on warm-blooded animals, especially mammals and birds, and it takes a lot of energy to survive the cold temperatures. Since hedgehogs are insect eaters, they cannot find any food for several months and for this reason they have to go to sleep in winter. The following causes that trigger this behavior should also be mentioned.
- Spiked Clothing: Hedgehogs have traded warming fur for their spikes, which translates into greater heat loss
- hormonal changes, especially in females
- shorter days
During hibernation, the animal shuts down its bodily functions so much that it does not have to go to the toilet, eat or drink. This saves energy that it previously absorbed from food and stored as fat. It must be pointed out that hedgehog species in Western and Central Europe often have an interrupted hibernation, i.e. a deep hibernation. The warmer the corresponding region, the greater the chance of hibernation, also in Germany. With this it can happen that the animal wakes up and falls asleep again and again in between. The deep hibernation, however, is actually typical.
Tip: Did you know that hedgehogs don't hibernate in hot, dry areas, but do go through a different condition called torpor. This is a rigidity that occurs during dry periods and effectively protects the hedgehog from an acute lack of water and food, but less from predators.
When the hedgehogs go to sleep depends crucially on the region and the weather. The onset of winter is crucial, but the fat pad is even more important for the animals. Hedgehogs try to nibble on the fat depot at long-lasting temperatures of up to 5°C, in order to withdraw to their winter quarters at this point at the latest. However, this time is not ideal and many of the animals withdraw between 6°C and 11°C, since the risk of hypothermia is still low here. There are clear differences between the sexes and the age of the animals with regard to the point in time.
- male Erinaceus are the first to retreat to their winter quarters
- the time for this is usually at the beginning of October, although in particularly cold regions such as Scandinavia, September is already used for this
- the males disappear first and curl up for the winter because they do not have to recover from a possible pregnancy and rearing of young like females do
- because of this, you can devote yourself fully to foraging, which quickly leads to the fat pad you need
- the females usually choose their quarters for the winter a little later, since they have to recover from rearing the young and don't have that much time to search for food
- typical of this are usually one to two weeks later, like the hedgehog males
- when young animals go to winter quarters depends heavily on their weight
- since the young animals still have to put on a lot of weight, the search for food for the cushion usually takes longer
- it is not uncommon for young hedgehogs to be looking for food at the end of October
- however, the longer the juveniles wander outside, the chances of hypothermia increase significantly
- the young must first eat up a weight of at least 500 g to 700 g in order to survive the winter
Compared to the young, the minimum weight of an adult hedgehog, regardless of gender, is around 1,000 grams, with more always being better. If the animals weigh only 700 grams, they are already considered emaciated in relation to hibernation. When you will then move into your quarters for the winter is uncertain and can be significantly delayed.Hedgehog in the home garden
Tip: You can help hatchlings a little with the food they need if you know there are hedgehogs around. All you have to do is provide a bowl of oatmeal or wheat bran and cat or hedgehog food to help with weight gain.
length of time
How long hedgehogs stay in their hiding place also depends on the temperature. In general it can be said that the animals face long weeks from November to April, during which they starve themselves down to around 200 grams or a little more.
The typical course of hibernation as follows:
- after the animals have moved into their quarters, they fall into a twilight sleep
- at body temperatures of 0°C they fall completely into hibernation
- only about two percent of the metabolism works
- however, sensory organs and organs of survival remain fully functional
- if the body temperature rises again to around 30°C, the animals slowly wake up
- after which they begin to move again until they reach their normal body temperature of 34°C
Since the hibernation lasts for quite a long time, disturbances can lead to an interruption of sleep. This can have fatal consequences, because the animals burn a lot of energy when they wake up in winter, especially the young ones. For this reason, the hedgehogs must not be disturbed in winter, since the chance of survival is greatly reduced in such incidents. You can help the animals by setting up winter quarters that are undisturbed by possible predators or troublemakers, especially cats and dogs. In this way, the insectivores can return to daylight healthy and undisturbed after about five months.