What are our Furry Friends Up To?

By Bear Lake Staff / October 25, 2013

Hello, Bear Lakers!  Many of you have now noticed the dropping temperatures as Fall is settling in to our beautiful mountains.  We are bringing out the cozy sweatshirts and fuzzy blankets this week – ready for some hot cocoa and a good book by the fire!  But where do all of the furry friends we made this summer go when they get chilly?  Many of them hibernate or make a comfortable bed in their favorite cozy spots.  Squirrels, Chipmunks, Groundhogs, and Black Bears all hunker down during the cold season!

So, how do they do it?  Personally, I think I could hole up in my bedroom for a few days with some big ole blankets and plenty of pillows – but they do it for MONTHS!  Different types of animals hibernate in different ways – some of them dropping their body temperatures so close to freezing that they can be handled without waking up.  But don’t try it with our friends at Bear Lake Reserve, they tend to be grouches when stirred from their slumber.

Let’s start off with squirrels – these fuzzy little guys don’t do any hibernating, they just hunker down and try to stay warm!  Building nests in the trees with plenty of leaves, they store as many nuts as they can and forage the forest floor when the weather is calm.  Staying out of the wind is their main goal, good thing they have those bushy tails to curl up with!

Squirrel

Chipmunks are very similar to squirrels, entering a very restless hibernation.  Some are active on warm winter days, and they use food stored during the summer months to help them make it through the winter.  Many Chipmunks will emerge from their hibernation in early March.

Chipmunk

Groundhog Day – the day we find out if we can break out the short sleeves or keep them packed away for a bit longer!  Groundhogs do hibernate in the cold months of the year, some losing as much as 1/3 of their body weight.  Groundhogs go underground to hibernate after the first frost and do not arise again until spring.  Their heart rate decreases drastically and their body temperature is not much higher than the temperature of their burrow.

Groundhog

Black Bears – we know they are hanging out in our back yards during the summer, but what do they do when the weather gets chilly?  These big balls of fur hunker down just like the little guys we talked about – prepared to sleep through the winter!  Bears have the ability to hibernate longer and without stirring; they drop their body temperature by about 10-15 degrees.  In fact, they can hibernate up to 8 months without venturing out and about!  However, bears ARE very wakeful sleepers, and are capable of abandoning their den if they feel it is needed.  In other words, don’t wake a sleeping bear!

Black Bear Hibernating

If you want more information regarding the animals of NC and their hibernation patterns, check out the NC Wildlife Commission Resources at http://www.ncwildlife.org/Home.aspx

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