Many animals hibernate in the winter including hedgehogs, knowing where they hibernate and why is key to understanding their needs.
What happens when hedgehogs hibernate?
Hedgehogs hibernate in order to save energy, they may look like it but they are not actually asleep. When hedgehogs hibernate they put themselves into a state of decreased physiological activity called ‘torpor’ this helps them survive times of very low temperatures. They reduce their body temperature and metabolic rate to a point that normal movement is simply not possible.
During winter months there is not enough food available and hedgehogs would starve to death if they did not hibernate, without enough food available they need to reduce the need for feeding and this is done by going into torpor.
When do hedgehogs hibernate?
Hedgehogs typically hibernate from autumn to spring (October - March) but this can vary depending on the temperature and food availability. During this period they will use up most of their fat stores which have been built up by eating as much as they can over the summer, so it is really important that we correctly feed hedgehogs to get their numbers back up in the UK.
Don’t worry too much if you see a hedgehog pottering around in the winter months though, they may move their hibernation locations to a more suitable site. If you see one curled up out in the open, its best to move them to a nice damp free location safe from any predator attack. Add a nice, safe hedgehog house in your garden to help them with their hunt for suitable lodgings.
Where do hedgehogs live and hibernate?
Hedgehogs tend to live in the outskirts of wooded areas, it should also be no surprise that hedgehogs are often found living in hedgerows. A well maintained hedgerow will provide the hedgehog with a safe place to live, full of nice juicy bugs and critters with protection from harsh weather. Due to this hedgehogs often choose a nice compact hedge as a good hibernacula as well as somewhere to live throughout the summer.
There are a few considerations that hedgehogs will make when choosing the best place to hibernate (hibernacula). The important characteristics of a suitable hibernation site are dry, sheltered, compact (to help insulate and keep in what body heat they have) and safe from predators such as foxes and badgers.
The most popular choices for hedgehogs when hibernating are:
- Compost heaps
- Piles of wood
- Old rabbit burrows
- Under sheds
- In the roots of trees
- Under hedges
As we have popular bonfire parties such as Guy Fawkes Night during the period of hedgehogs hibernation, it is very important to always check every bonfire before you set fire to it, similarly you should also be very careful when forking over your compost heap, always assume there is a hedgehog in there and move things with caution.
How long do hedgehogs hibernate for?
As previously mentioned, hedgehogs will hibernate as soon as the food supply starts to run out and air temperatures drop, typically from October to around March/April. However, this hibernation period is not just one big snooze for a hedgehog, in fact hedgehogs will wake quite frequently during hibernation. They tend to stay in their nests during this temporary stirring, unless they feel the current nest is too cold and no longer suited. They won’t waste time trying to fix their current nest, its much easier just to shuffle off into a new site, snuggle down and get back to hibernating.