Wildlife wakeup

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Cumberland's hibernators

AMHERST – If you think getting out of bed in the morning is tough, try being a bat. The winged mammals are one of just two true hibernators – plus a handful of more active but still resting animals – beginning to wake up in our region.

“Bats will be starting to come out now,” said Kim George, a Truro-based regional biologist with the Department of Natural Resources.

Escaping the cold is only part of the hibernation equation. True and non-true hibernators (bears fall into the latter category) are sleeping off a period of food scarcity. Bats, for example, are insectivores, according to George, so they wake from slumber when the bugs appear.

It’s a very deep winter slumber, too. Along with woodchucks, bats descend into a state not unlike animated suspension. Their bodies are only a few degrees above the ambient temperature, said the biologist.

Other species are more active and alert than the term hibernation might imply. These non-true hibernators may wake and leave their dens or nests as conditions allow.

“They’re very easy to disturb,” she said of black bears.

“Their body temperature only drops a few degrees.”

Other non-true hibernators in the Cumberland region include skunks, raccoons and porcupines, according to George. These species may den together in a mixed group of adults and juveniles. A break in the weather, even in winter, is an opportunity to get out and look for food.

Black bears are omnivores, said George, which means much of their caloric intake comes from vegetation – scarce in winter. But they aren’t necessarily den-bound or, within the tight confines of the den, immobile.

“We’ve had reports of bear tracks seen in the winter time,” said George.

And sows give birth to cubs in January; the mothers are caring for their young through the cold months.

It would be a mistake to think bears emerge from their winter’s rest ravenous and aggressive about securing food. On the contrary, George said they’re typically lethargic this time of year and stay in a small geographic area initially.

The biologist said spring is an interesting time to see evidence of wildlife. Vegetation hasn’t had a chance yet to grow and conceal tracks or scat.

esparling@amherstdaily.com

Twitter: @ADNsparling

Organizations: Department of Natural Resources

Geographic location: Cumberland

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