With colder temperatures forcing us to unpack those winter jerseys and boots, it is safe to say that winter is officially here. Although we are truly fortunate to have moderate winter temperatures in the Lowveld it is still cold enough for us to dust off the old coat and put on layers of clothing before we face the elements.
As humans it is easy for us to control our body temperature with clothing, food, a nice fire, etc., but what do animals do to survive cold winters?
Some animals have mastered the art of hibernation by reducing their metabolism to conserve energy in the colder months. While hibernating, an animal’s metabolism is significantly slower, the same happens to its heartbeat and breathing. Here are some examples of hibernating animals in South Africa:
African Clawed Frog
Also known as “platanna”, these “flat frogs” have powerful back legs and sharp claws on three of their toes. You can mainly recognize them through two things: first, their ears are not visible; and second, they do not have a tongue.
When moving on land, this clawed frog only crawls and has trouble walking. But when they are on the water, they are tremendous and agile in swimming.
Most of the Xenopolus frogs choose to stay in stagnant water areas and peaceful streams where the temperature is warmer. They prefer staying long-term in the ponds compared to living on land. When their current home base encounters some problems, they just migrate to another attractive water area. If the usual habitat is not available to the clawed frogs, they find a muddy area where they can hibernate and not eat anything and stay dormant for about eight months.
In regions with mild temperatures, cold winters force bats to migrate or hibernate. Most bats travel less than 500 km to find a suitable cave or area, where they remain for months, surviving solely on stored fat reserves. However, some bats like the giant-sized Straw-colored Fruit Bat are long-distance migrators, travelling between East and West Africa flying at altitudes of up to 200 m and at speeds of up to 30 km/h.
Hibernation enables bats to ‘switch-off’ their body’s energy-expensive heating mechanism, thus allowing them to survive cold winters when insects are not available. Body temperatures may even approach freezing point during this time. Prior to hibernation, bats build up their fat reserves, which may have to last up to six months.
Disturbing hibernating bats can have tragic consequence because they have limited fat reserves and undue arousal costs large amounts of energy and may result in the bat waking up before winter is finished and consequently, starving.
Typically, bats are very loyal to their birthplaces and hibernating sites. Exactly how bats navigate large distances is still a mystery. They may use mountain ranges and other visual landmarks, as well as information passed from one generation to the next.
The Nile monitor (Varanus niloticus) is one of Africa’s largest lizards and one of the continent’s most voracious predators (for its size). They are among the most interesting reptiles and they are beautiful animals, especially when young.
Nile monitors grow to about 100–140 cm (maximum 200 cm) in length (including tail); they have a stout body, powerful limbs, and extraordinarily strong claws. Like all monitors they have a forked tongue. Their skin is tough and covered with small, bead-like scales.
On land, the Nile monitor walks with a sinuous swagger and will sometimes climb trees to bask, feed or sleep. When inactive, they bask or rest on waterside vegetation, trees, logs, and rocks, often in a prominent position. In the colder parts of South Africa, they hibernate in big rock cracks or burrows.
Southern African Hedgehog
Southern African hedgehogs are small mammals found in the southern part of Africa. They are covered with spines all over their body except for their face, belly, and ears. These spines are made of keratin protein with a hollow shaft and a muscle for each spine.
Southern African hedgehogs are solitary, except in the case of females rearing their young. Southern African hedgehogs are nocturnal. They will spend most of the day underneath the cover of leaves or under bushes and in holes; only coming out at night to feed.
Sleeping places are changed daily with only some wintering and breeding nests being semi-permanent. These hedgehogs are slow movers; however, when threatened, they can move surprisingly fast at 6-7 km/h.
The Southern African hedgehog hibernates during the winter and studies show that heterothermy helps keep the energy balance for this species during winter.
As humans we might not need to hibernate, but there is no need to face harsh winter temperatures every winter. Why not consider property at Likweti wildlife residential estate in the Lowveld. Our winters are lovely and dry with average day temperatures of 24°C which means you can enjoy the beauty of the Lowveld bushveld all year round.
Likweti Bushveld Farm Estate is a 765 hectare wildlife residential estate near White River in Mpumalanga. This eco-sensitive wildlife residential estate offers property owners the unique opportunity to combine the best elements of estate living with a true bushveld farm lifestyle.