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10 things you didn’t know about how animals survive the winter

Please join your local wildlife trust today

Please join your local wildlife trust today

Please join your local wildlife trust today

Posted: Saturday 11th November 2017 by bbowtblog

ladybirds, dormouse and jayLadybirds; dormouse by Danny Green and jay by Margaret Holland

In a world of central heating, fluffy jackets and supermarkets, it’s easy to forget how difficult it can be for animals to survive the colder months. Here are 10 things you might not know about how animals overwinter.

Kate TitfordWritten by Kate Titford

Communications Officer at BBOWT


Always make sure that there are no hedgehogs curled up inside a bonfire before lighting it!

1. Out of the British mammals, only hedgehogs, bats and dormice hibernate. All other mammals survive the winter by adapting – for example growing thicker fur, eating more food and keeping warm in cosy nests. Hedgehogs and bats can wake on warmer winter days and head out to look for food. But this uses up a lot of energy and a long, cold winter is actually better for them.

2. Dormice are the only mammals (and only British rodent) that spend the entire winter hibernating (from October until April). Their name comes from the French 'dormir', meaning to sleep!

dormouse by Danny Green

3. During hibernation animals slow their heart rate and breathing, and lower their body temperature to save energy when food is scarce. Some animals enter a state of torpor, which is when their body temperature doesn’t drop so much.

4. Cold-blooded animals, such as reptiles (snakes and lizards) and amphibians (frogs, toads and newts), can’t regulate their body temperature. They also need to hibernate during the winter, which is sometimes called ‘brumation’ for these animals. They tuck themselves away in log piles, under stones or down in the soil.

5. Some butterflies survive winter as adults and can be found tucked up in sheltered corners of houses or sheds. Species that do this include red admiral, peacock, small tortoiseshell, comma and brimstone. Other butterfly species spend the winter as eggs, caterpillars or pupae.

Harlequin ladybirds

6. Ladybirds, such as harlequins (above), commonly come into people’s houses in the winter and gather in the corners of windows. Look carefully, there may be some two-spot ladybirds huddled amongst them. Did you know the collective term for ladybirds is ‘a loveliness of ladybirds’.

7. Some insects create a form of anti-freeze that stops them freezing solid and allows them to survive very cold temperatures.

8. Very mobile animals such as birds can avoid the coldest weather by migrating away to warmer places where food is more abundant. Swallows, swifts, martins, some birds of prey and many of our breeding species of warblers, head to Africa. It is not just birds though, there are species of moth and butterfly that are also able to travel amazing distances.

jay caching acorns

9. Some animals that don’t migrate store food during autumn to eat through the winter. Did you know the scientific name for the jay means ‘chattering acorn gatherer’. Look for them burying acorns in the ground to eat in winter and listen out for their noisy screeching in woodlands.

10. And finally, it wasn’t that long ago that people thought swallows used to spend the winter hibernating in mud at the bottom of ponds! It was thought the bubbles often seen rising up through ponds were the birds breathing. Now we know they actually travel to southern Africa. 

Find out more about hibernating animals in your garden by clicking here


Why not give your garden wildlife somewhere to spend the winter? Download our Hidey Holes sheet.

Hidey Holes

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