Hedgehogs are often seen foraging in our gardens, especially in autumn. But come winter, our prickly friends hibernate and usually don’t appear again until spring. But how, where and when do hedgehogs hibernate and how can we help them in winter?
Once temperatures drop below zero at night, hedgehogs have a hard time finding enough insects to sustain themselves. They spend the winter somewhere protected from the cold, entering a kind of deep sleep in order to conserve energy and survive the colder months. Keep reading to find out more on hedgehog hibernation, including how, where and when hedgehogs hibernate and how to help them out.
Hedgehog hibernation: how do hedgehogs hibernate?
When hedgehogs go into hibernation, they lower their body temperature down to around 4 °C. They also drastically reduce their metabolic activity and slow their heart rate and breathing. In this state, their bodies require hardly any energy. That said, it is still important for them to have eaten enough by the end of autumn in order to have built up enough fat reserves to get them through the winter. Because once temperatures drop below zero, it is simply too cold for the hogs to leave their nests and hunt for food.
Do hedgehogs hibernate together or alone? Hedgehogs are solitary creatures, so they tend to spend the winter months alone.
When do hedgehogs hibernate?
Depending on the temperature, hedgehogs usually begin hibernating in November, when the weather slowly starts turning wintry. And when do hedgehogs come out of hibernation? They awaken from their deep sleep in spring, between March and April, once it starts getting lighter and warmer.
Where do hedgehogs hibernate?
When temperatures start dropping, hedgehogs are among the animals that seek out a suitable so-called hibernaculum — Latin for ‘winter quarters’ — in which to tuck themselves away for the winter. This needs to be a quiet, sheltered place protected from the elements and the cold. Hedgehogs tend to make a nest in their own burrows or under piles of dead leaves and branches. If there are larger hedges in your garden, the hogs will usually find a nice spot for themselves there. If your garden is on the smaller side and without hedges, or if you simply want to help out, consider buying or making your own wooden hedgehog house or box. Whether the hedgehogs accept this as their place of hibernation is another matter. In any case, they will need their peace and quiet once they have settled, so just leave them be and try not to disturb them from their slumber.
How to help hedgehogs in need?
Are you wondering what to do if you disturb a hibernating hedgehog or if you find a hedgehog out during the daytime in winter? Hedgehogs usually only come out of hibernation early if they have been disturbed or sometimes if they are hungry. If you do happen to find a hedgehog in winter, contact your local wildlife rescue centre or the British Hedgehog Preservation Society (BHPS). Just know that if you see a hedgehog out and about in winter, it will probably be hungry. Start by offering it some hedgehog food (if you happen to have some) or wet or dry cat food and fresh water. Hedgehogs are insectivores that primarily feed on insects, bird eggs, invertebrates such as snails or worms and other small vertebrates. They cannot digest fruit very well and are also lactose intolerant, so do not give them milk.
Chances are the hedgehog will also be cold and could even be at risk of hypothermia, so take it to a warmer, sheltered place — or to a well-placed hedgehog house if you have one. Do not bring it indoors or anywhere too warm, as this sudden change in temperature could shock its body.
Caution: always wear gloves when handling a wild hedgehog. Aside from being a bit prickly, they can also carry salmonella and ringworm. And remember not to handle them for too long to avoid causing them any unnecessary stress.