Some photos of a high-end grizzly bear den are making the rounds on the internet, giving a candid look at how they spend their hibernation. Before grizzly bears hibernate, they gain weight to help them survive the winter. Some might wonder what features are important for grizzlies as they seek den sites that will protect them through the cold months. The Idaho Fish and Game Upper Snake had the answer. “The view of course!” they quipped on Friday.
Images posted on Facebook by the regional IDFG office showed an enormous den discovered by biologist Jeremy Nicholson and Officers Chris Johnson and Joe Heald. This was while they searched for a tracking collar dropped from a 600-pound research bear.
In the top image, Johnson is shown at the entrance of the den. He is seen smiling to show off how large it is. In another photo, you can see a breathtaking view from just outside of the cave. “Check out the spectacular view from the den and what it takes to excavate a den large enough to hold a grizzly bear,” says the caption.
The vent in the ceiling made it easier for the group to breathe. They also located the remnants of the tracking collar inside the den. The bear was nowhere to be seen. However, grizzlies can move large amounts of earth when excavating dens big enough to support them during winter months. Hibernation usually begins in late November regardless of weather conditions. Males generally first emerge from their dens in early spring. Meanwhile, females with cubs appear sometime in April or early May.
More about grizzly bear hibernation habits
Each year, grizzly bears hibernate for 5 to 7 months (except in warmer climates where they do not hibernate, such as the California grizzly). During this time, female grizzlies give birth and their offspring consume milk and gain strength. To prepare for hibernation, a den must be prepared and an immense amount of food must be consumed as bears do not eat during hibernation. Throughout the entire period, Grizzlies also refrain from urinating or defecating.
Before winter begins, bears can eat enough to gain up to 400 pounds. This is called hyperphagia, and it helps the bear build up fat reserves to last through hibernation. When it’s time to go into the den for winter sleep, the bear often waits for a big snowstorm first. That way predators are less likely to find the den. Dens are usually at high elevations (above 5,900 ft) on north-facing slopes.
Some experts argue about whether grizzly bears truly hibernate since they can get up and move around occasionally during this time. Grizzlies also recycle their body waste products to some extent while “hibernating.” However, these animals spend less time in dens if they live near the coast where food is more plentiful throughout the year. There are even areas where bears don’t hibernate at all because food is so readily available all year long.