hibernation

hibernation

Hibernation is a state of inactivity and metabolic depression in endotherms. Hibernation refers to a season of heterothermy that is characterized by low body temperature, slow breathing and heart rate, and low metabolic rate. Although traditionally reserved for “deep” hibernators such as rodents, the term has been redefined to include animals such as bears and is now applied based on active metabolic suppression rather than based on absolute body temperature decline. Many experts believe that the processes of daily torpor and hibernation form a continuum and utilize similar mechanisms. Hibernation during the summer months is known as aestivation. Some reptile species (ectotherms) are said to brumate, or undergo brumation, but any possible similarities between brumation and hibernation are not firmly established. Some insects, such as the wasp, Polistes exclamans hibernate by aggregating together in groups in protected places called hibernacula.J.M. Gonzalez, and S.B. Vinson, “Does Polistes exclamans Vierek (Hymenoptera: Vespidae) Hibernate Inside Muddauber Nests,” Southwestern Entomologist, vol. 32, no. 1, pp. 67-71, 2007. Often associated with low temperatures, the function of hibernation is to conserve energy during a period when sufficient food is unavailable. To achieve this energy saving, an endotherm will first decrease its metabolic rate, which then results in a decreased body temperature. Hibernation may last several days, weeks, or months depending on the species, ambient temperature, time of year, and individual’s body condition. Before entering hibernation, animals need to store enough energy to last through the entire winter. Larger species become hyperphagic and eat a large amount of food and store the energy in fat deposits. In many small species, food caching replaces eating and becoming fat. Some species of mammals hibernate while gestating young, which are either born while the mother hibernates or shortly afterwards. For example, the female polar bear goes into hibernation during the cold winter months to give birth to her offspring. She loses 15-27% of her pre-hibernation weight and uses stored fats for energy during times of food scarcity, or hibernation. It is evident that pregnant female polar bears significantly increase body mass prior to hibernation, and this increase is further reflected in the weight of their offspring. The fat accumulation prior to hibernation in female polar bears enables them to provide a sufficient and warm, nurturing environment for their newborns. Alternately, the term hibernation may commonly refer to the science-fiction concept of prolonged or indefinite suspended animation of humans or other organisms.

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