It’s around that time when Wendy the Woodchuck is slowing down and getting ready for hibernation. She is the only animal that we have that goes into a true hibernation. She does this even though she’s inside a warm cozy building. Although the temperature in her exhibit will not change much throughout the seasons, her body still tells her it is time to take a long nap for the winter. The reason for this is because studies show that animals have internal rhythms that help regulate both daily and seasonal behaviors. Even though Wendy may not be able to feel a change in the weather, her body still kicks into hibernation every year at the same time!
From the months of October to April, when you visit the museum there is a good chance you will see Wendy curled up in a ball asleep in her bed, just like the picture above. Occasionally throughout the winter she will wake up just enough to eat a little bit, but usually does not even make it back to her bed before she is asleep again! So don’t be alarmed if you are walking through Carolina Wildlife and see her splayed out flat on the floor or with her head resting in her food bowl, she’ll eventually wake up again and make it back to her comfortable bed.
During this time of hibernation for Wendy, we do very little with her exhibit so that we do not disturb her. It can be unhealthy for an animal who is going through this sort of natural cycle to constantly be disturbed from her sleep. Therefore, when we change out her food and water every day we are as quiet as possible. We also check to make sure her bathroom area isn’t dirty, but rarely does it need to be cleaned during the winter months.
Wendy’s body slows down so much during hibernation that she may only take one breath every 30 seconds, and her heart rate drops from about 80 beats per minute to around 5 beats per minute! Now that’s pretty impressive, wouldn’t you say?
Visit Larry’s “Big Word of the Month” from last year to learn more about hibernation and other interesting natural cycles.