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hibernation

hibernation hī˝bərnā´shən [key] [Lat.,= wintering], practice, among certain animals, of spending part of the cold season in a more or less dormant state, apparently as protection from cold when normal body temperature cannot be maintained and food is scarce. Strictly speaking, hibernation is the dormant state undergone in response to cold by certain mammals. Hibernating animals are able to store enough food in their bodies to carry them over until food is again obtainable. They do not grow during dormancy, and all body activities are reduced to a minimum: there may be as few as one or two heartbeats a minute. Studies have shown that, in addition to living off stored fat, hibernating bears maintain muscle mass and healthy bones by recycling body waste products that normally would be excreted. Cold-blooded animals (e.g., insects, reptiles, amphibians, and fish) must go dormant if they live in environments where the temperature—and hence their own body temperature—drops below freezing; the hibernationlike condition reptiles undergo is known as brumation. Some insects pass their larval stage in a hibernationlike state; in such cases this dormancy, or diapause, is closely associated with the reproductive cycle (see larva ; pupa ). Most warm-blooded animals, i.e., birds and mammals, can survive freezing environments because their metabolism controls their body temperatures. Many animals that undergo a period of hibernation or dormancy seek insulation from excessive cold; bears and bats retire to caves, and frogs and fish bury themselves in pond bottoms below the frost line. Analogous to hibernation is aestivation, a dormant period of escape from heat and drought. Other methods of avoiding excessively high or low temperatures and destructive increases or decreases in the water supply are encystment and ensuing dormancy, e.g., in plant seeds and bacteria, and migration. Some animals, such as rabbits, raccoons, and squirrels, store food against scarcity and spend cold periods asleep in their burrows, though they may emerge on warm days.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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