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Today, many types of mammals are recognized as hibernators, including bats, rodents, bears and even primates — three species of dwarf lemur in Madagascar and the pygmy slow loris in Vietnam have been found to hibernate. Hibernating groundhogs even inspired the annual U. The tradition was brought to the U. Hibernation is typically linked to seasonal changes that limit food supplies. Though certain species of fish, amphibians, birds and reptiles are known to lie dormant during cold winter months, hibernation is generally associated with mammals, according to Don Wilson, a curator emeritus of vertebrate zoology at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.

Endothermic mammals — "warm-blooded" animals that generate body heat internally — need a constant energy source to keep their engines running, Wilson told Live Science. And when that energy source becomes difficult to find, hibernation can help them weather harsh conditions.

A special type of fat called "brown fat" accumulates in hibernating mammals, Wilson said. Bats that hibernate develop brown fat on their backs between their shoulder blades, but mammals can also store brown fat in their bellies and elsewhere in their bodies, Wilson said. Brown fat goes a long way because the hibernating animal draws on it very slowly, reducing their metabolism to as little as 2 percent of their normal rate, according to a study published in the Journal of Neurochemistry.

Their core body temperature is also greatly reduced.

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It generally hovers close to the air temperature in the animal's den but can sometimes fall as low as 27 degrees Fahrenheit minus 3 degrees Celsius in Arctic ground squirrels , according to Kelly Drew, a neurochemist and professor with the Institute of Arctic Biology at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

Arctic ground squirrels' bouts of torpor last about two to three weeks, Drew told Live Science, and the animals rouse "pretty consistently" for about 12 to 24 hours, before resuming their winter sleep. JHU Press, When the temperature drops, males and worker bees die off but the queen survives by hibernating. She hibernates in a hole in the soil, in rotten tree stumps or under leaf litter.

She will emerge months later, warm-up and then find a nice spot to build a nest and create a whole new team of bees. William H. Handbook of urban insects and arachnids.

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Cambridge University Press, Page Unlike the bumblebee queen, who hibernates alone, garter snakes hibernate in groups. In Canada, where winters are exceptionally cold, there can be hundreds and sometime thousands of snakes grouped together for warmth. Once spring arrives and the snow melts, they head out of their winter homes to bask in the sun.

Joanna Burger. Whispers in the pines. Rutgers University Press, Page Hedgehogs are some of the deepest hibernators around. Some can sleep through the whole winter! Their body temperature drops and they breathe so little that it can hardly be seen. They have special cells that release heat 20 times faster than white cells.


If temperatures drop too low, their heart beat picks up to produce more heat, which wakes them up briefly before they fall asleep again. Maurice Burton, Robert Burton. The international wildlife encyclopedia. Marshall Cavendish, Page Snails have a built in bed for their hibernation. They go into their shell, close up the hole with a skin made of chalk and slime that keeps the moisture in.

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Over a period of days, an animal's heart rate and breathing rate drop slowly, eventually. The lowered body temperature makes fewer demands on metabolism and food stores. These areas are those that respond to external stimuli such as light, temperature, and noise. Thus, the hibernating animal can be aroused under extreme conditions.


Periodically, perhaps every two weeks or so, the hibernating animal awakes and takes a few deep breaths to refresh its air supply, or in the case of the chipmunk, to grab a bite to eat. If the weather is particularly mild, some animals may venture above ground. Blood vessels dilate, particularly around the heart, lungs and brain, leading to an increased breathing rate. Hibernation is a state of inactivity, or torpor, in which an animal's heart rate , body temperature , and breathing rate are decreased in order to conserve energy through the cold months of winter.

Hibernating animals use times less energy than when active, allowing them to survive until food is once again plentiful. Hibernation differs from sleep in that a hibernating animal shows a drastic reduction in metabolism , or its rate of energy usage, and arouses relatively slowly, while a sleeping animal decreases its metabolism only slightly, and can wake up almost instantly if disturbed.

Bears , which many people think of as the classic hibernating animals, are actually just deep sleepers, and do not significantly lower their metabolism and body temperature.

Hibernation - What is Hibernation? | Young People's Trust For the Environment

True physiological hibernation occurs only in small mammals , such as bats and woodchucks, and a few birds , such as poorwills and nighthawks. Some species of insect show periods of inactivity where growth and development are arrested and metabolism is greatly reduced: this state is generally referred to as diapause, although when correlated with the winter months it would also fit the definition of hibernation. Many hibernators also produce a layer of specialized fat known as brown fat brown adipose tissue which lies between the shoulder blades of the animal. Brown fat is capable of rapidly producing large amounts of heat when it is metabolized, which raises the animal's body temperature and brings about the eventual arousal of the animal from hibernation.

These are primarily areas which respond to external stimuli such as light , temperature, and noise, so that the hibernating animal can be aroused under extreme conditions. These animals, including chipmunks, skunks , and raccoons , are sometimes called "shallow" hibernators. Scientists are interested in discovering the mechanisms which control hibernation and arousal, and the means by which animals survive such critically low metabolic activity.


Many researchers hope to discover ways of placing human beings into a state of hibernation, thus allowing them to survive medical operations which cut off much of the supply of blood to the brain, or even to embark on long space voyages. Other researchers look at the changes in brain chemistry of hibernators as a way of understanding obesity in humans, or as a way to unravel the mysteries of sleep and the functioning of the human brain.

Stidworthy, John. New York : Gloucester Press, Hibernation is a special type of deep sleep that enables an animal to survive the extreme winter cold. Hibernation lowers an animal's energy needs and allows it to live off stored fat and not have to search for scarce food. Hibernation is a form of cyclic behavior and is triggered by different cues in the animal's environment. All animals have different survival tactics that allow them to live through difficult or life-threatening situations. The steady, severe cold that comes with winter poses a problem to animals who do not escape it by migrating or leaving nor adapt to it such as by growing an extra-thick coat of fur or a layer of fat.

Winter is difficult for all warm-blooded animals those that maintain a constant internal temperature despite their environment , since they must spend most of their energy just keeping warm. When the temperature falls below freezing, these animals must eat even more than they usually do simply to produce enough internal heat to stay alive. Nature makes things even more difficult in winter, since at a time when warm-blooded animals need to increase their intake of food, it has suddenly become very scarce.

For certain animals, hibernation is a simple way to solve the particular problems posed by winter cold, since they basically sleep through winter and wake when the weather has become mild.

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  7. However, hibernation is a fairly complicated physiological event. When an animal hibernates, its body processes such as breathing and heartbeat slow down, sometimes to the point that the animal appears dead. While hibernation could be described simply as a very deep sleep, it is anything but simple.

    True hibernators are usually small mammals like woodchucks, mice, or ground squirrels. When the time comes to hibernate, the animal responds to one of several environmental "cues," such as a certain low temperature or a reduction in the hours of daylight. These cues trigger the release of a hormone a chemical messenger called hibernation induction trigger HIT that causes major changes in the animal's body.

    Its heartbeat becomes slow and weak and its body temperature drops many degrees. It takes a few breaths every minute and it makes hardly any waste urine. As a true hibernator, the animal falls into such a deep sleep that it looks dead and sometimes cannot even be awakened if picked up. All of these reactions triggered by the hormone allow the animal to maintain its necessary body processes while using far less energy than if it were awake. Before they fall asleep for the season, hibernators usually develop huge appetites that allow them to store as much fat as possible to be burned later while sleeping.

    They also usually prepare the den or burrow where they sleep to comfortably insulate themselves from the cold. As spring approaches, different cues in their environment, like warmer temperatures or lengthening daylight, awaken them and they soon resume their normal level of activity. This does not happen immediately, however. As their heart rate increases, along with their blood pressure and respiration, hibernators usually begin to shiver, which slowly raises their body temperature.

    After readjusting to this now-high rate of metabolism the chemical processes that take place in an organism , they are ready for normal activity. Like their warm-blooded counterparts, cold-blooded animals whose temperature changes with the surroundings also hibernate. Animals like frogs, turtles, and snakes bury themselves in the mud where their slowed-down systems find just enough trapped oxygen to stay alive.