Hibernation: It won't make you sleepy
The thought of curling up or hanging up and hiding out for a few months when things are tough is a tempting fantasy and not only when it's winter that's looming. I'm not so sure about being torpid although I recall some Sunday mornings after Saturday nights when that would have been a polite description of my metabolic state.
Hibernation is another phenomenon which we adults grow to take for granted. We learn a bit about it and then it happens, out there somewhere, every autumn until we tell our own kids about it and then it carries on in the background of our lives again. But, come on, if you think about it, it's an incredible adaptation that has evolved in a whole range of species, one which influences their ecology, their behaviour and their physiology in massive ways.
Creatures that hibernate literally shut down most of their machinery. They have a system that will run undamaged on ultra-slow tick-over and then return to normal service when required. Heartbeats deliberately plummet, respiration gets reorganised and all this after deliberate sequences of behaviour which will ensure survival.
So they feed up, find or make safe spaces and then retreat for the big chill out in tune with the environment. They are even enabled and programmed to wake up and rid themselves of toxins (poo and wee) to go to sleep. And, even more impressive, whilst hibernating some of these creatures are not actually sleeping at all so they wake up to go to sleep. Now tell me you knew that and didn't think it was totally amazing!
We have been to the St Tiggywinkles Wildlife Hospital near Aylesbury this week as it's pretty much hedgehog capital of the UK. This is a place where they nurture and release hundreds of below-par hogs every year. Some are injured but at this time of year many are simply underweight. For a hog to stand a good chance of making it through the winter it needs to weigh at least 600 grams, this indicates that it will be carrying enough fat to see it through.
So patients are wormed, flea-ed and given a rich supply of hearty dog food, a few vitamins and kept warm. And then when the scales tip in their favour they are released into sites where they will be safe from predators and tyres. Hedgehogs have not been doing very well in many parts of the UK for a while: too many pesticides, loss of habitat and increased traffic all contributing to a sad decline. So the work done here and at the many other similar practices is clearly important.
One little group of hogs that will definitely be spending Christmas indoors are a very late litter of three babies. These palm-filling cuties were a real hit with Kate (and just about everyone else), their big eyes, wriggly noses and twitchy whiskers giving them maximum pet-ability. And I confess I may have perhaps uttered a mild 'oooh' under my breath too.
(There's more cuties at St Tiggywinkles as this film shows.)