Hibernation is when an animal slows its heart rate and other bodily functions to save energy and survive the winter without eating much. Some animals just slow down and move less frequently during hibernation, but others go into what appears to be a deep sleep and don’t wake up until spring. Contrary to popular belief, hibernation is not actual sleep, though. Hibernation is a state of torpor, different from sleep, mainly because during sleep, unconscious bodily functions — such as breathing, having a heart rate, and having detectable brain activity — are still performed. Different animals hibernate in different ways- some appear to be in a deep sleep they won’t “wake” from for months, while others only take light naps, waking to eat and shiver to warm up a bit.
In Maryland, we have many animals that hibernate during winter. When the weather grows cold and the food becomes scare. American black bears retreat to dens. Males bed down around mid-December and emerge in mid-March; females, from late November to mid-April. Groundhogs, also called woodchucks, are typically active until the first real frost of winter, often October or November. Then they crawl down into their burrows to hibernate until February or March. Wood frogs find shelter and warmth during Winter under fallen leaves, pine needles and soil. Wood frogs typically only hibernate for 2-3 months during winter. Garter snakes hibernate from late October through March or early April, but do take breaks to bask on rocks during mild winter days. They hibernate in natural cavities, such as rodent burrows, under rock piles, or in stumps.
On November 4 at 7pm, members are invited to join us for our First Friday Fire to talk more about hibernating animals. As always, we’ll enjoy an evening around the fire and s’mores. You can register for this evening event at the park for free on our website.
While many animals in our region will be hibernating through the upcoming winter months, there are still plenty to see! Learn more winter wildlife in our area from the Chesapeake Bay Program.