Do Bears Really Hibernate? The Never-ending Debate of the hibernating bear
it’s a myth that bears hibernate. it’s a myth that bears don’t hibernate. Where does this story end?
In the United States circa 1950, the story of the hibernating bear was told with confidence. School children from coast to coast knew of the Sleepy Bear that, come cold temperatures and snow, escaped into a cave for months of deep sleep. With the arrival of spring and warmer weather, the bear would emerge from the cave to search for Food & Frolic in a nearby stream.
And then came the scientists with their sophisticated shiny metal objects, which they used to measure metabolism, temperature, and oxidation. In the 1960’s, 70’s, and 80s, many such scientists concluded that bears do not hibernate. The logic went something like this. when animals hibernate, their body temperature drops. Smaller mammals that hibernate can drop their body temperature below freezing. Bears, however, drop their body temperature by only 10 to 15 degrees. Further, whereas some smaller mammals cannot be easily awakened during hibernation, a hibernating bear can be stirred from its sleep with relatively little effort. The conclusion was that bears do not hibernate.
This created quite a stir in the scientific community. If bears aren’t hibernating, what exactly are they doing? A replacement Theory was the concept of torpor, a biological state in which animals lower their metabolic rates, but generally for shorter periods of time. Torpor is considered to be less of a deep sleep than hibernation and as seen in Birds, rodents, insectivores, and marsupials.
Yet the torpor argument came with its own set of problems. In many respects, the hibernation of a bear is actually deeper than that of other hibernating species. Although rodents and other small mammals drastically reduce their body temperatures during hibernation, they wake every few days in order to eat and urinate. Some species of bears are able to go 6 to 8 months without eating, urinating, defecating, or fully waking. Further it is because of their large size that bears do not drastically reduce their body temperatures during hibernation. In the face of this confusion, words such as Denning and dormancy were coined to describe the habits of bears.
Whether the physical inactivity of an animal is labeled hibernation, torpor, or dormancy, the purpose of these prolonged States is to conserve energy in the face of food scarcity or uncomfortable temperatures. Metabolism is reduced when an animal lowers its body temperature, slows its breathing and heart rate, and reduces its movements. A particular strategy a species takes in these Endeavors varies greatly and depends on its environment.
In the colder Northern regions of North America, where food is unavailable for the long stretch of winter, black bears hibernate for several months. in the Arctic, where Food Supplies are unpredictable, Polar bears can go into hibernation at any time of year. Only female polar bears hibernate, no doubt because of the elevated energy requirements of pregnancy, birth, and feeding the Young.
Scientists moved back into the pro hibernation Camp after the discovery of a lemur that hibernates in the tropics, apparently to save energy in the face of heat and food scarcity. The word estivation refers to species that hibernate in warm temperatures. It was traditionally thought that hibernation served as in Escape From the cold oh, but the energy saving behavior of the Lemurs hibernation demonstrated that the process is about lowering metabolism in the face of environmental stressors that vary from species to species.
Hibernation is now accepted as a broad phrase that refers to a reduction in metabolism for prolonged periods of time. Meaning that it is once again safe to tell the tale of the hibernating bear.
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