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Hibernation and Food Essay

When the season is changing and it is getting colder, you know that winter is coming. Animals, which are able to migrate , fly to the south to spend the winter in warmer places. What if you are an animal who is not able to fly to sunny Spain during the cold winter months? You gather a lot of nuts, find a nice den to lie in, curl up into a ball and sleep through the winter, but is that all there is to it? The common name for this event is hibernation, but scientists call it torpor or deep sleep.

It is a way for animals to live in an area where during several months of the year the conditions are inhabitable for them due to food scarcity or extreme temperature change. When the conditions improve and the temperatures are up to their living standard, they can continue with their normal activities . To be able to understand completely what hibernation is it is necessary to explain the three different types of torpor. The three different types of torpor are long-term torpor or hibernation, summer torpor or aestivation and daily torpor .

Hibernation or long-term torpor is an animal’s ability to adjust to cold winter temperatures and the short supply of food during these months. The animal does this by lowering its body temperature to a minimal in order to preserve energy and to slow down its metabolism . The body temperature of most animals will degrease to as low as 1˚ or 2˚C. Before the animal can start hibernating, he needs to collect food. The storage of food is essential for the animal to survive the deep sleep. This allows them to remain alive for a very long time on small supplies of energy stored in the body fat or from the food, they hoarded in their burrow.

Some animals, like squirrels, do not sleep the whole time. They awaken every week or two for a couple of hours to warm up to about 37˚C so they are able to maintain their burrow. The reheating of the body costs a lot of energy. To do that multiple times during the hibernation they store extra food . It also gives certain animals a chance to raise their young during the winter months in order to protect them from other animals and the harsh climate. Examples of hibernating animals are bears, bats, squirrels, hamsters, racoons and badgers.

Aestivation or summer torpor is very similar to hibernation, but in a hot or dry season of the year which does not necessarily mean during the summer. It is characterised by reduced metabolism and idleness, which allows animals to survive during increasing temperatures and limited water supplies . The animal lowers its metabolism and goes into a state of dormancy . Because this state happens during hot or dry season, the storage of water is essential. They also store food but not in the same quantities as during hibernation. Examples of aestivating animals are toads, frogs, tortoises and prairie dogs.

Daily torpor is a way for animals with high metabolism to be able to preserve their feeding patterns. A hummingbird uses so much energy when it is trying to hover next to a flower that it needs the torpor to be able to feed again. Animals, which need daily torpor, use a lot of energy so they need to be able to feed as soon as they come out of their torpor. During the hours when they cannot feed, torpor makes it possible for them to live on stored energy. The animal goes into daily torpor without preparation and is able to do this by lowering its own body temperature. Even if there is not a shortage of food and the animal has enough energy left it still goes into its daily torpor. It has become build in with its own routine . Examples of animals that go into daily torpor are skunks, shrews, deer mice and gerbils.

If it is a bear who needs to survive the winter and welcome the warm summer or if it is a kangaroo mouse who needs to survive the Sahara desert, torpor is necessary for animals to be able to stay alive. That means in cold surroundings but also during the heat of the deserts or just to survive at all. The three different types of torpor show that animals are able to adept and remain alive in all sorts of climates and conditions.

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