Fox in the Woods at Night

Let’s Learn About Hibernation!

Written by Stalac-Tate

Have you ever wondered why animals hibernate? Or seen an animal that you thought should be in hibernation but is right in front of you? Let’s talk about the deep sleep of hibernation.


First, let’s answer the question, why do animals hibernate? The simple answer is that some animals use hibernation to conserve energy during the winter when most of their food source is scarce. Animals get ready for their winter sleep by eating a bunch of extra food in the fall to pack on the pounds. Animals store this food as body fat, which they use for energy as they sleep.


Secondly, where do these animals hibernate? Obviously, they hide away as to not be disturbed. Some of the places they choose include holes underground, burrows, hollow trees, and caves (Not Cave of the Mounds as we have no natural opening). These hideaway places are their “hibernacula” which is Latin for “winter quarters”.

Skunk at night

Did you know that there are different types of hibernation? 

True Hibernation

This one is the most commonly known. It is coma-like and the animal’s body really slows down to conserve energy. To do this, the animal slows its heart rate, lowers its body temperature (sometimes below freezing), and this causes them to breathe slower. These animals include woodchucks, bats, reptiles, and ground squirrels.

Woodchuck in Wisconsin

True Hibernation

Also known as “dormancy”. Typically, this type of hibernation is common with mammals like skunks, raccoons, bears, and opossums. Instead of being completely asleep the whole winter, they may wake to get a snack, go to the bathroom, or take a stretch. However, they do go through a process of decreasing their heartbeat and decrease their breathing.

Closeup of a racoon's face

True Hibernation

Although this is not true hibernation, this does occur when birds or animals are fearful or cold. Birds have a tell when they are in torpor because their beak will be open and it looks like they are panting.

Robin Bird on a rock

True Hibernation

These are the reptilian and amphibian versions of hibernation. Since they can’t control their body temperature enough to enter true hibernation, they go to a state of inactivity. When they do this, they enter their burrows and do very little.


Now when you see a bird panting or an opossum in the winter, you know that they are not true hibernators.