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Get Outside Like Minna

February 6, 2019
by Becky Ferrigno

February is here and in Upstate New York that means more snow!! It seems to be the perfect time to talk about HIBERNATION!

So Let’s Begin With A Few Simple YES/No Questions

  1. Do Chipmunks and Ground Squirrels Hibernate?
  2. Do Bats Hibernate?
  3. Do Bears Hibernate?
Time’s up!

If you answered:

  1. Yes
  2. Some
  3. Well, that’s complicated and something that not all Biologists are in agreement on…


Uh, Wait a minute…

I thought I was taught in school that bears hibernate!

So let’s break this down…

Hibernation Facts

  • True hibernation happens when an animal’s heart rate, breathing rate, and temperature drop significantly.  Their body functions slow to less than 5% of normal.
    For example:

Dwarf Lemurs can go up to 10 minutes without taking a breath when hibernating!



  • To slow down their metabolism, animals cool their bodies 9-18 degrees!
  • Most mammals that hibernate are very small.
  • Mammals are not the only species that hibernates. The Common Poorwill (a bird), the Antarctic Cod, and some amphibians, reptiles, and insects do too!

So why do small animals hibernate?

  • Animals use it as a way to conserve energy
  • Animals hibernate to wait out a food shortage
  • New studies say some animals hibernate to protect themselves from predators. When you hibernate you don’t smell, make noise or move, so it makes it harder to be spotted!

How is hibernation different than sleep?

  • Even though it may be hard to believe, sleep is very easy to break out of in comparison to hibernation. Animals often awake from hibernation acting like they are sleep deprived. Some need to sleep for several days to recover.
  • During sleep, your brain activity slows down but brainwaves of a hibernating animal are similar to someone who is fully awake.

So…do bears hibernate or don’t they?   

  • True hibernators body temperature gets so low that they have to wake up quite frequently to eat, move around and go to the bathroom. If they did not wake up on a regular basis, they would not survive hibernation.
  • Bears can go 100 days without needing to eat or go to the bathroom. This is because their body temperature does not drop as low as a true hibernator. They are able to maintain their body temperature because they are so well insulated!
  • They also wake up much easier and do not need days to recover. It allows them to react to the danger around them. Also, mothers can feed their babies while they are “hibernating.”
  • The US National Park Service suggests that bears are “Super Hibernators!” This means they experience torpor, or a short term drop of body temperature during cool periods, without entering a true hibernation state.

So that brings us to our Get Outside Like Minna (GOLM) of the month!

Many animals are still very active during the winter. If you look outside after new snow falls, you will find tracks of animals who are very active in spite of the cold! The kids and I decided to “Get Outside Like Minna” and use our detective skills to uncover who don’t hibernate in the winter time!

GOLM #2: Capturing Footprints

STEP 1: Gather the supplies you will need:

  • Warm outdoor clothes
  • Camera or smartphone
  • Paper/Pencil
  • Animal Tracks Books like Track Finder by Dorcas S. Miller or Animal Tracks by Arthur Dorros or an Animal Tracks App.
  • Print out of the Track Template

STEP 2: Find a large space where the snow is clear and hunt for tracks.

STEP 3: When you find them, take a picture of the track. If you don’t have a camera, just draw what you see on the template! That’s what Minna did!

STEP 4: Once you have several different track pictures, go inside and become a nature detective.  We borrowed the books listed on the supply list from the library but they can also very easily be purchased on Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

Another option for the tech-savvy naturalist is to download an animal tracks app.

  • Inaturalist.org is a great option. You can post and share a picture and other animal tracker enthusiasts can help you decide what you are seeing!
  • iTrackWildlife has a variety of apps costing from $0-$15. The Basic app, which costs $4.99, gives you 40 common species to compare your tracks with.

STEP 5: Share your tracking finds in the comments below!

Until next time, happy exploring and make sure to Get Outside Like Minna!


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