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With the arrival of autumn, there are a lot of animals preparing themselves to spend the winter hibernating in the warm, looking for a safe haven to escape from the cold. When we speak about hibernation we often think about mammals, especially about the large-sized ones such as bears, but we should remember that hibernation also concerns a lot of the little animals that visit our parks and gardens.
So, don't be surprised if some small animal has chosen to spend its winter in your garden! The important thing is to know it can happen, learn about the creatures that may live in your garden, and prepare the best environment for their hibernation.
So, which animals are going to hibernate in our gardens?
For hedgehogs, hibernation begins in October/November and lasts until April. Hedgehogs like to use piles of leaves, grass clippings, garden compost, wood chips and organic waste as refuges that they hibernate under!
If you like the idea of having hedgehogs as guests in your garden, here are some tips for welcoming them:
● allow some corners of your garden to grow wild
● vary the types of plants in your garden to attract insects for the hedgehogs
● the presence of a pond will provide hedgehogs with all the water they need
● gather together piles of fallen leaves and grass clippings in some corners of your garden
● avoid using chemical pesticides and insecticides in your garden. Chose natural solutions instead!
If you suspect that some hedgehogs are wintering in your garden, be careful before mowing the lawn or doing 'invasive' work: check in the corners and under the heaps of grass and leaves in your garden to make sure you do not disturb the sleep of these small animals.
If you are going to make a bonfire or get rid of the accumulated leaves in your garden, watch out for hedgehogs!
Amphibians hibernate during the winter, and they do it in a spectacular way! They bury themselves in the mud, at the bottom of a garden pond, in a corner of softer soil or under piles of leaves and bark. Their body freezes during their sleep and thaws with the arrival of summer.
In order to better accommodate these small animals during the winter, you can follow these simple tips:
● if you have a garden pond, clean it and make it as welcoming as possible before winter, maybe with some small ramps to facilitate entry into the water
● do not get rid of the piles of and soil and leaves near the edges of your pond or in the corners of your garden: frogs may use them as houses!
● if a frog makes your pond its hibernation den, be careful not to let the cold freeze the entire surface: create some openings, so that the water has enough oxygen.
Not all bats hibernate, but the races living in latitudes where insects are really scarce during the winter do go into hibernation. They take refuge in the crevices of trees or in narrow openings in our homes, under the roofs or in the walls. They need a cool, dry place! During their winter sleep, which can last more than six months, their body temperature drops drastically, their metabolism slows down and their heartbeat drops to 10 beats per minute.
● hang bat boxes on the walls of your home or in the trees in the garden to offer bats a refuge
● avoid pruning all the trees in your garden for the winter: bats will be able to take refuge in branches where the foliage is denser.
If you would like the company of bats in your garden the whole year round, the best way to accommodate them is to install bat boxes and attract the insects that the bats like to eat, by having a garden pond, avoiding the use of chemical insecticides and planting a large variety of plants!
If you have tortoises as pets, you already know that hibernation is very important for them! There’s no need to alter the natural routine of these animals: when they decide to hibernate they will dig a tunnel in the ground and take refuge in an underground lair, that is often several metres deep.
Even during a very severe winter, the cold and the ice does not penetrate beyond the surface of the ground, so its underground lair should keep your tortoise warm.