Monday, November 28, 2011

And Now, We Sleep.

Another Thanksgiving has come and gone.  We've stuffed our faces with turkey (or tofurky for my vegetarian friends), dodged pepper-spraying wackos at Wal-Mart, and surfed ourselves silly on Cyber Monday.  I don't know about you, but after all of that excitement and caloric intake, I can't think of a better thing to do than take a nice long nap.  Heck, I just might hibernate.

That about sums it up after Thanksgiving dinner.

Animals hibernate too...just not for the same reasons.  For animals, hibernation is a way to escape periods of winter where food is sparse or temperatures are too cold for survival.  Lots of animals hibernate: bats, woodchucks, frogs, turtles (really most if not all northern reptiles and amphibians), but not bears.  Why aren't bears considered true hibernators?  Although a bear's heart rate and respiration may lower quite a bit during their winter dormancy, it's not nearly to the extent of a true hibernator like the little brown bat, whose body temperature approaches that of the air temperature and only breathes about once per hour.  Keep this in mind if you ever think about going bear tipping, folks; true hibernators take time to wake up, bears don't.

In my opinion, frogs are one of the most fascinating hibernators.  A hibernating frog on land can be found encased in ice, and even with ice crystals within its body cavity, but will still thaw out and come back to life in the spring.  How does the frog survive?  It has a high concentration of glucose (sugar) in its vital organs, which acts as a kind of antifreeze.  

That is one cold amphibian!

Now you probably knew a thing or two about hibernation before reading this, but did you know that there's also a kind of "hibernation" that takes place in the summer?  Just as in winter, there are some animals such as Pennsylvania's red-backed salamanders that can't take the extreme temperatures and dryness that comes with summer.  So to cope, they use a summer dormancy called estivation.  The red-backed salamander spends both winter and summer safely tucked beneath a log, until the cool and rainy days of spring and fall arrive.  Sleeping through half of the year--they must be part teenager.

So go eat your leftovers, share this blog with a few people (hey, I'm not above some self-promoting here), and then return to your holiday slumber.  I'm going to go and see if I can convince some people that bear tipping is a real sport.

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