How to help hi­ber­nat­ing crea­tures

Look out for crea­tures hi­ber­nat­ing in your gar­den and take care not to dis­turb them

Gardeners' World - - Contents -

After the clocks go back, our gar­dens are full of leaves and there’s a lin­ger­ing mist hang­ing over the lawn at first light. It’s au­tumn. Apart from birds, which we might no­tice more now as the shorter days leave less time for them on our feed­ers, every­thing else is tucked away. Most an­i­mals go into hi­ber­na­tion in au­tumn. It’s the most ef­fi­cient way of sur­viv­ing win­ter. Rather than search­ing for food (of which there’s very lit­tle), they shut down and sit it out. Those hi­ber­nat­ing in your gar­den right now in­clude hedge­hogs, am­phib­ians, rep­tiles and in­sects – par­tic­u­larly bum­ble­bees, but­ter­flies and wasps. Some in­sects hi­ber­nate as adults, such as pea­cock and small tor­toise­shell but­ter­flies. Oth­ers hi­ber­nate as lar­vae or pu­pae. What­ever the species, it has evolved its own way to sur­vive win­ter. You usu­ally won’t be able to see them but that’s the point – it’s safer for them to stay hid­den. They might have buried them­selves deep in the soil or your com­post bin, snug­gled into or­na­men­tal grass or folded their wings be­neath a piece of bark or shed roof – and we must be care­ful not to dis­turb them. True hi­ber­na­tion in­volves slow­ing of the heart rate and breath­ing, and drop­ping body tem­per­a­ture, but most en­ter a state of ‘tor­por’, where body tem­per­a­ture falls only slightly. They wake pe­ri­od­i­cally and bring their body tem­per­a­ture back to nor­mal, be­fore re­turn­ing to sleep. It’s not fully un­der­stood why they do this, but it may ex­plain hedge­hog or bat sight­ings in win­ter.

Novem­ber 2018

Small tor­toise­hell but­ter­flies hi­ber­nate as adults

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