Some animals go into a state where they don’t eat, drink or urinate. They are completely inactive. Their heart beats slower, breathing slows down, blood pressure lowers, and their brain activity decreases. In humans, we call this a coma. But what happens to our furry friends during those long winters? Do squirrels hibernate?
The short answer is no, but there are many misconceptions about what hibernation actually entails. The most common misconception is that hibernation involves sleeping during the winter. While hibernation does involve a decrease in metabolic activity, it is not synonymous with sleeping. In fact, squirrels don’t even go into a deep sleep as bears do. They simply slow down their activities considerably.
Like most mammals, squirrels live off stored fat. So, in the fall, they start eating less and sleeping more. As temperatures drop, their body temperature drops too. During hibernation, squirrels lose up to 70% of their body weight. In addition, their metabolic rates decrease. A squirrel’s heart beats around 60 times per minute during normal activity. However, it slows down to 20 beats per minute during hibernation.
Squirrels dig small holes in the earth where they store nuts and seeds. They do this so they can keep track of what they’ve stored and make sure they’re not missing any. Grey squirrels have been known to use deception to protect their caches. While other squirrels are near, they’ll dig and hide some nut stores without actually putting any nuts inside. It’s believed that grey squirrels use visual clues to remember where they put their stash. Deception may serve as a distraction to prevent others from stealing their hard work.
During hibernation, squirrels’ brains become very quiet. Brain waves become slow and deep, similar to sleep. Blood flow to the brain stops. Even though the squirrels’ eyes are open, they’re not seeing anything.
While hibernating, squirrels stop producing adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones help us deal with stress. Without them, squirrels are unable to react to danger. When spring arrives, squirrels wake up slowly. First, their hearts beat faster. Then, they begin to move again. Finally, they resume eating and drinking.
However, all squirrels tend to become idle and typically stay in their nests during the winter. Most species of ground squirrel, including the Arctic ground squirrel of Alaska, hibernate and are inactive throughout the winter months.
Why Don’t Squirrels Hibernate?
Squirrels don’t actually hibernate because they can survive without food for longer periods of time than humans can. Unlike humans, squirrels don’t have to eat every single day, and if they do find themselves hungry, they’ll just go back into their nest and wait until they’re ready to eat again.
Squirrels don’t hibernate because they’re too busy prepping for winter. In fact, they can’t even control their own internal clocks. Instead, they follow external cues like temperature changes to know when it’s time to hibernate. And while their brains are small compared to our big brains, they still manage to keep track of things.
Where Do Squirrels Live in The Winter?
Squirrels spend most of their lives in trees, except during the summer months when they make it down into the ground. During the winter, however, they start building nests to survive the cold weather. In fact, squirrels often prefer colder climates because they don’t like the heat. As temperatures drop, squirrels begin to set up homes inside buildings such as attics or even under roofs.
When the temperature drops low enough, squirrels go about preparing their nests for hibernation. They collect pine needles and twigs and use them to construct their nests. After choosing a spot, they’ll gather together branches, sticks, moss, and anything else they can find to help insulate their nests. Some squirrels have been seen keeping multiple nests, so they have multiple options for escaping predators.
What Do Squirrels Store in Winter?
Squirrels are known for being very organized, especially during the colder months. And while we might think that they simply stash away food for later use, there are actually several different types of hoarding behaviors that squirrels engage in. One of those is called scatter hoarding, where squirrels collect items throughout their home range. This includes hiding nuts, seeds, berries, and even insect larvae under leaves and logs.
But what happens when squirrels start to feel like their nest isn’t big enough? Well, they’ll go out and find more stuff to add to it. And in doing so, they’ll often bury the extra items all over their territory. So, if you happen across some scattered nuts outside of your house, chances are that squirrels must have buried them in another part of your yard.
Do Squirrels Migrate?
Squirrels are great survivors. They eat nuts, berries, seeds, insects, worms, grubs, leaves, roots, bark, fruits, flowers, mushrooms, grasses, moss, and fungi. They live in trees, bushes, hedges, and shrubs. They travel long distances along rivers, streams, lakes, ponds, and oceans.
They do not migrate. In fact, there is no such thing as a migratory species. All animals move around, sometimes long distances, sometimes short ones. When we say something moves, we mean that it changes location. If you want to know how far a squirrel travels, ask yourself where he came from and where he went. He moved somewhere.
A true migration involves moving back to one’s place of origin after surviving some sort of disaster. For example, a hurricane survivor returns to his house, a flood victim goes back to her flooded neighborhood, a tornado survivor heads back to her destroyed the town, and a wildfire survivor returns to her burned forest.
The squirrels that survived the fire didn’t go back to their original locations because they had nowhere else to go. They couldn’t find food or shelter anywhere else. So they stayed put.
How Far Do Squirrels Roam?
Squirrels are known for being very social animals. They love to play together, eat nuts together, sleep together, and even mate together. But how far do squirrels actually roam?
The answer depends on many factors, such as weather conditions, food availability, and the size of the territory. A study published in the journal Animal Behaviour found that most squirrels travel less than seven miles per day. However, some squirrels will move between homes. And while most squirrels don’t travel more than ten miles away from their original locations, there are exceptions. For example, one group of squirrels traveled up to 30 miles away from their home tree.
How Do Hibernating Squirrels Survive For Months Without Water?
During winter, the squirrel’s heart beats slower, and its breathing becomes shallow. Its brain waves slow down. They don’t need to eat or drink anything. Instead, it uses stored fat reserves to fuel its body. The squirrel also produces an antifreeze protein that keeps its blood from freezing.