Science Articles

WHY DO ANIMALS HIBERNATE?

Hibernation is a process which helps the animal to adapt and conserve energy by remaining inactive.

Hibernation is a process which helps the animal to adapt and conserve energy by remaining inactive. They slow down their metabolism and reduce the body temperature for days, weeks and even months at a stretch. Hibernation is the adaptive method used by the animals during the winter season. It helps keep extreme conditions at bay.

Hibernation is derived from a Latin word which means to pass away the winter. Some of the species that undergo hibernation are Arctic squirrels, lizards, bears, chipmunks, jumping mouse, deer mice, hedge dogs, prairie dogs, skunks etc. Bears are largest hibernators since they do not eat, drink or even excrete during hibernation.

CHANGES THAT TAKE PLACE DURING HIBERNATION

Extreme metabolic changes take place inside the animal’s body during the act of hibernation.

  • The rate of breathing slows down
  • Heart rate decreases
  • There is a drop in body temperature
  • Continued torpor (sleep-like state)
  • Animals go through days or weeks without eating or drinking or excreting.

WHY THERE IS THE NEED FOR HIBERNATION

  • It is basically linked with the seasonal changes that lead to scarcity of food resources. The species lie dormant during the cold, in a sleep-like state. They live on their fat reserves. Hibernating animals have two kinds of fats- special brown fat and regular white fat. The brown fat is the reserved fat that gives extra heat to the body, provides energy and helps the animal survive.
  • Warm-blooded animals require warmth for continuing with daily chores. However, when the energy source becomes rare to find during harsh conditions, hibernation helps them to cope up.
  • During hibernation, the entire mechanism of the animals slows down. The mammals don’t respond to external climate and remain unaffected by it.
  • Various animals migrate to warmer places before going into hibernation.

IN A NUTSHELL

Animals usually hibernate in order to survive for a long stretch of time when the outside food is scarce. They eat or store up a lot of food before going into hibernation mode and then use the energy stored in their fat for survival. Unlike sleep, hibernation is more powerful and tiring. Some animals go back to sleep again for recovering from the physical changes during hibernation.

Animals hibernate during the winter season by lowering down their body temperature and adapting to the changing environment. Hibernation isn’t simply done for comfort- it is done for survival.