Science Fact of the Week: All About Hibernation

25 11 2008

bear-2When winter comes hibernation begins for many animals. Hibernation is when animals become inactive or sleep for long periods of time during the winter.

Before it gets cold, these animals spend most of the day eating to gain weight so that the extra body fat will keep them warm during hibernation. Then, in the spring, the animals come out of hiding and enjoy the warmer weather. Here are some interesting science facts about animals and hibernation:

Many people think that only certain mammals, such as bears, squirrels, chipmunks, and bats hibernate, but that’s not true. Amphibians and reptiles, such as frogs, turtles, snakes, and lizards can hibernate, too. Even some insects are known to hibernate!

An animal can lose up to half its body weight over the winter while hibernating.

While some animals hibernate in caves, trees, or holes in the ground, amphibians and reptiles sometimes hibernate underwater!

The animal that spends the longest amount of time hibernating is called a Belding’s Ground Squirrel. This animal hibernates for about eight months!

During hibernation, an animal’s heart rate slows to about 10 beats a minute. Sometimes, an animal’s heart rate can drop as slow as only 1 to 2 beats a minute!

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2 responses

18 04 2009
Sal Inocensio

I have a red slider turtle that just reappeared after almost three years hiding or hibernation. I live in the San Joaquin Valley, in Fresno, which has a temperate climate, but some of our recent winters it has gotten down to the low 20’s or just below the freezing point. How long do they normally hibernate? Do they hibernate underground, and how could it survive all these years? I lost one other turtle in my backyard the same year, is it possible that it may still be alive? How could I find it? Do they grow much in hibernation? thank you Sal

20 04 2009
austinkids

Hi Sal! That is so cool that your slider reappeared! I am no herpetologist (someone who studies amphibians and reptiles), but I do know that many species of reptiles hibernate when the temperature starts to drop. Definitely, if you get temps in the 20’s that is too cold for your turtle to be out and about. They conserve energy by slowing down their heart rate and body temperature, so they don’t need to consume food to fuel their bodies. Turtles may hibernate underwater at the bottom of a pond or in a muddy bank (In wintertime, it’s warmer in a deep hole than on the surface of the ground). They may come out of hibernation to drink water or bask in the sun on warm days. In the case of your turtle, it was probably only hibernating in the winter and would not have been hibernating for the entire 3 years. If you want more detailed information I would check out the library. It’s amazing how much more information you can find inside a book than on the internet! Or in your area there may be a local herpetology club that gathers and shares their love of herps. That would be a great place to start. Thanks! – Christina

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