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Hibernation of the hedgehog: why, when, how?

The hedgehog is one of the many animals that hibernate. During this very special period, his body goes into economy mode. Let’s find out together what precisely this cold adaptation strategy and how does this natural process work, how the hedgehog prepares for hibernation and at what time of year this hypothermic state occurs in this animal. Finally, let’s also see how we can help hedgehogs come out of hibernation.

What is hibernation?

Hibernation is the term used to denote a hypothermic state during which the vital functions idle. This is a natural process in hibernating animals, allowing the body to keep the energy necessary to face the harsh climatic conditions in winter and cope with the lack of food.

During hibernation, the metabolism of the animal drops significantly. The internal temperature gradually drops so that all vital functions can adjust.

Thus, we note a decrease in the heart rate and the production of growth hormone but also blood flow without the heart, brain and adipose tissue being affected since they continue to be irrigated. . The coagulability of the blood also decreases, which limits the risk of clots forming during this long period of inactivity. Breathing slows down and oxygen consumption also drops.

All this process allows the body to conserve the energy necessary for vital functions, this energy being drawn from fat reserves.

How does the hedgehog prepare to hibernate?

In the month ofOctober, the Hedgehog stores up to 40% of its body mass in white fat at the abdominal level and brown fat, this accumulating on the upper body. The first is used to maintain the minimum functioning of his organism until the end of hibernation, the second is used to warm him at the end of hibernation.

In November, when food begins to run out, when the outside temperature drops below 14 ° C and the period of sunshine decreases, the hedgehog begins to enter phases of semi-lethargy, at first quite short then increasingly long until the lethargy total.

But before falling asleep for several months, the animal takes care to make a cozy nest where to spend the winter. He chooses a place sheltered from cold winds, rain, floods and little exposed to sudden variations in temperature. It could be a burrow that has been abandoned, a pile of rubble, or a collection of branches that can hide it from potential predators. It then accumulates dry herbs as well as leaves which constitute a excellent insulatorThus, the temperature inside its hiding place can be maintained between 1 and 5 ° C.

What happens at the end of hibernation in the hedgehog?

In general, the duration of hibernation is of the order of 4 months in the hedgehog. The process of coming out of hibernation is extremely faster than that which allows the animal to enter it. Indeed, the restoration of physiological functions takes place in a few hours when the hedgehog comes out of its lethargy. The body warms up, the heart rate increases, the secretion of growth hormone resumes its normal course just like blood flow and oxygen consumption for example.

Of course, the hedgehog no longer has quite the same build because it has much thinner while hibernating, his body having completely exhausted its fat reserves.

It should also be noted that in him, as is the case with all small animals whose metabolism is particularly high, hibernation does not last as long as in large hibernators. Fortunately, moreover, because the reserves would be insufficient and that would put his life in danger. Moreover, throughout this period, if the cold East extreme, the hedgehog comes out of its lethargy from time to time in order to look for food, about once a week. This costs him a lot of energy, forcing him to have to find a significant amount of food to be able to resume the course of his hibernation in good conditions and then to be able to face his restart when this period comes to an end.

Indeed, at the out of hibernation, the animal must very quickly regain strength because it is in a very significant weakened state. He must then eat a large amount of food in order to meet their basic needs and of regain weight because it has lost about 40% of its mass. Going in search of food when he is not at his best is a test.

A hibernating hedgehog should never be disturbed so that it does not waste this vital energy. In addition, each of us can help the hedgehogs to face their return to normal life by leaving in some places a few small containers of water because their rehydration is fundamental. You can also put food in a bowl, such as kibble for dogs and cats or even complete food for hedgehogs that you can buy in pet stores. It is fundamental to help the hedgehog, a friend of the gardener, to come out of hibernation without hindrance because it is at this time that its reproduction period begins.

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