Toronto is home to more than 300 animal species. We might not have bears, but the city’s parks and valleys house a rich and diverse group of urban hibernators. Found mostly in High Park, the Humber River, Don Valley, and along Lake Ontario, these common creatures are in the envious position of sleeping the winter away.
Critter: Groundhogs/woodchucks (pictured above), the largest members of the squirrel family in Ontario.
How long they’re down: Groundhogs enter hibernation as early as October and typically rest for five months, but sometimes for as little as three.
Where they go: They hibernate in deep burrows and are most common in the Don and Humber valleys, High Park, and Mount Pleasant cemetery.
Critter: The Little Brown Bat and the Big Brown Bat, two of the four bat species found in High Park.
How long they’re down: Northern bats begin hibernation as early as September and emerge between April and June. Females tend to rouse first.
Where they go: The Little Brown can be found in the city, but has also been known for travel up to 150 km to sleep. These sites can contain upwards of 300,000 bats at a time. The Big Brown Bat, which is actually also quite small, stays in High Park (or in the attics and sheds of nearby homes). They eat enough in the summer to survive the winter, typically gaining a third of their weight in fat.
Critter: Reptiles and amphibians, including snakes, frogs, toads, turtles, and salamanders.
How long they’re down: Called “herps,” these cold-blooded animals enter “brumation” rather than true hibernation, though the terms are often used interchangeably. Herps do not require fat reserves or excessive sleep to survive. Instead they doze off for weeks at a time while remaining dormant underground for three to eight months, depending on climate.
Where they go: These animals sleep below the frost line, typically at least two metres below ground level, and almost always near or beneath water. Toronto’s ponds are home to hibernating snapping turtles, a special concern species under Ontario’s Endangered Species Act.
How long they’re down: Chipmunks get hungry often and start collecting food for hibernation as early as July. Unlike other mammals, chipmunks frequently wake, and for this reason are said not to enter true hibernation. They tend to retire from hibernation in April or May.
Where they go: When animals hibernate, their heart rates and body temperatures drop so low that often not even loud noises or physical touch will stir them. Chipmunks are light sleepers, however, and towards the end of winter frequently rest for a few days, then wake to eat the nuts they’ve stored in their underground burrows before falling back asleep.