How bats hibernate

Flying Fox at the Columbus Zoo

While this extra warm spring is making humans happy, plants and animals are feeling the effects in a different way. We will likely get a big freeze before summer really starts, and that could affect fruit and vegetable crops that have started to grow ahead of schedule.  Another essential animal I was a little worried about is the bat. Bats eat bugs and fertilize crops. They’re so cool! I’m usually thrilled to see a bat, but when I saw several last night (because it was 77 degrees on March 19!), I got a little worried and decided to do some research. Questions:

  • Do bats hibernate?
  • What happens when they come out of hibernation?
  • Will the bats freeze when the weather cools again?
  • Will the bats starve when the weather cools and the bugs die?
  • Can the bats go back into hibernation when the weather cools again?
  • What effect does the hibernation > not hibernation > hibernation > not hibernation process have on them?

The Organization for Bat Conservation had some answers. It turns out, I needn’t worry about my little buddies. When it gets cold outside, bats slow their bodily functions and go into torpor, or hibernation. Their resting heart rate can go from 300-400 bpm when it’s warm outside to 10 bpm when it’s cold.

This occurs on a daily basis during spring, summer, and autumn for a few hours, depending on the weather conditions.

Whew! This process is normal for them. They go in and out of hibernation throughout the year, without us noticing.

The amazing thing about hibernators that sets them apart from other animals is that they are capable of rewarming their bodies from very low temperatures all by using internally created heat. Ectotherms, such as reptiles, have body temperatures that can reach low levels but they are incapable of rewarming themselves without external heat sources. –Bat

So, I will take comfort in knowing that the bats enjoyed a satisfying spring meal, got rid of some pesky bugs, and will safely return to hibernation when they need to.

Nature is pretty awesome.