Fall into Hibernation With Fun Science!

Beautiful leaves, fruitful harvests, and cooler weather are all things we think of when we picture fall.  It is a transitional time from the sweltering summer months to the frigid winter months.  For many creatures, fall is also a transitional time when they prep for hibernation.

What exactly is hibernation?

Bears snoozing in a den is what many of us probably imagine when we think hibernation, but a lot of different types of animals hibernate and experience similar processes.  Hibernation is a state of inactivity and metabolic slowdown in endotherms i.e. warm-blooded organisms. It is characterized by low body temperature, slow breathing and heart rate, and low metabolic rate.

Many ectotherms (i.e. cold-blooded organisms) seem to hibernate via a similar process called brumation.  Remember that the main thing that differentiates warm-blooded and cold-blooded creatures is that warm-blooded organisms can self-regulate their temperature and metabolic responses.  Whereas cold-blooded organisms’ metabolism reacts in response to their environment.  So cold environment = slower metabolisms for all ectotherms versus cold-environment = hibernation for some endotherms but not all.  Fish seem to hibernate but are an example of an ectotherm slowing down in response to the cold.

Hibernation is a considered a period of energy-saving torpor.  Torpor is a state of decreased physiological activity in an animal and includes a lower body temperature and metabolic rate.  Some animals experience what is called daily torpor, which refers to a period of low body temperature and metabolism lasting less than 24 hours.  For instance, hummingbirds experience a state of torpor just at night and have been known to hang upside down from their perch while in this state.

Hibernation in general occurs in winter and the opposite of hibernation is called aestivation, which occurs in the summer months.  Many invertebrates and amphibians have an aestivation cycle that helps them survive hot, arid seasons.

Why hibernate?

Whether it is hibernation or aestivation it is all about surviving extremes.  It is a way for animals to survive difficult conditions.  For instance, winter for a bear or squirrel means cold temperatures, not a lot of food, very little camouflage cover.  Despite being in a vulnerable torpor state, being out in those conditions seem way riskier. The risk of vulnerability must have been outweighed by the benefits of hibernation for bears and other creatures to evolve this unique mechanism.

Prep for hibernation

Bears, for instance, have a period prior to hibernation where they eat and drink in excess to build up their fat stores for hibernation.  Gorging themselves on nuts, berries and other food sources while they are around help them survive once they go into torpor and hibernate for several months.  They also have a transition period where they aren’t hibernating but their metabolism is beginning to slow so they start to eat less and sleep more.   The creation of a cozy den or nest is also essential for hibernation. This keeps body heat contained, protects from the elements, and conceals the hibernating animals.

Can humans hibernate?

You might feel sleepier in the winter months, but humans never evolved to hibernate.  Part of that reasoning is that since we evolved in equatorial, tropical Africa where there is a consistent food supply we would not have needed to hibernate to escape harsh conditions.  We also would have been a top predator, so less likely to need hibernation to avoid predators.  We are also bigger and most hibernators are small with the obvious exceptions here and there (bears).

Our hearts are also different from other mammals that hibernate.  Our hearts contract in response to calcium. So, if our heart gets too cold, there is a buildup of calcium and we go into cardiac arrest.  Mammals that hibernate have a special pump that gets rid of excess calcium, which means their hearts continue to beat at much lower temperatures.

Scientists are interested in engineering ways for humans to hibernate because it would aid in long-term space travel.  Astronauts must exercise 6 hours a day in space to prevent muscle and bone atrophy, which might be avoided if they could hibernate.  Hibernation obviously would reduce the amount of supplies they would need, and could protect from radiation.  A year in space right now is the max an astronaut can do without significantly increasing the odds that they’ll get cancer and other side effects due to radiation.

Read more

Company Summer Picnic June 2017

Written by: on July 20, 2017 @ 9:23 am

Recently, Science Made Fun of the San Francisco Bay Area, FROSCH Global Conferences and Events of Burlingame, CA came together to provide exciting, hands-on science activities at the Summer picnic for employees and families of a local company. Science Made Fun SFBA shared a tent, named Cheers to Science, with Ron the Python man.  The […]

Tags: , ,

Catogories: Extra! Extra! HTHT in the News
Read more

Giant Antarctica Iceberg Breaks Away

Written by: on July 13, 2017 @ 4:32 pm

In a recent post by CNN, a massive iceberg weighing more than one trillion tons has broken away from western Antarctica on Wednesday, July 12 2017. The break happened on the Larsen C ice shelf. Experts confirmed via satellite that the shelf had broken away.  Scientists believe the iceberg has a volume twice that of Lake […]

Tags: , , ,

Catogories: Hot Topics: Science in the News
Read more

The Great American Eclipse is Coming!

Written by: on @ 3:31 pm

On August 21, 2017, millions of of American’s will see one of nature’s most wondrous spectacles, a total eclipse of the Sun. A total solar eclipse is when the Moon completely blocks the Sun. During a solar eclipse the moon passes between the sun and Earth and blocks all or part of the sun. This […]

Tags: , , , ,

Catogories: Hot Topics: Science in the News
Read more

Engineering and Roller coasters!

Written by: on June 27, 2017 @ 11:33 am

Pupils dilate, heart rate soars, you feel like you’re flying!  Somehow you feel weightless and then twice as heavy all in a matter of minutes.  You are experiencing the euphoria of riding on a roller coaster!  Ever wonder why you feel all these different things?  Or how roller coasters came to be? When did people […]

Tags: , , , ,

Catogories: E-News HTHT
Read more

What’s the Science Behind the Fidget Spinner?

Written by: on June 7, 2017 @ 4:11 pm

Fidget Spinner – Image Source: Pixabay.com You may remember your mom asking you to stop fidgeting when you were growing up. Perhaps, fidgeting is actually better for you then previously thought! Read below to find out why! As of May 2017 there is a new toy on the market…known as the fidget spinner. This toy […]

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Catogories: Hot Topics: Science in the News
Read more

New Technology Being Implemented by Delta Airlines

Written by: on May 16, 2017 @ 10:52 am

Recently, news came out stating that Delta Airlines was investing in a facial-recognition system that could make checking your bag at the airport twice as fast. Testing of the software is going to begin this summer at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. So how will this new technology work? Passengers will need to have a passport in order […]

Tags: , , , , , ,

Catogories: Hot Topics: Science in the News
Read more

May 2017 E-News: Bird Migration & Climate Changes Affecting Migration Patterns

Written by: on April 27, 2017 @ 3:11 pm

With International Migratory Birds Day approaching on May 13th, we wanted to dedicate our feature article of the May 2017 e-newsletter to be all about bird migrations and factors that affect it. One of my favorite past times is feeding and watching the birds in my backyard!  I have different visitors, such as the goldfinch, […]

Tags: , ,

Catogories: E-News HTHT
Read more

Cassini spacecraft is ready for its grand finale!!!

Written by: on April 26, 2017 @ 3:59 pm

The Cassini Spacecraft is about to fly through the undiscovered space between Saturn’s rings and the planet. For the first time in history Cassini will be taking pictures and collecting data about Saturn’s interior, its mysterious storms, the age of its rings and the length of its day. Cassini launched into space on October 15th, 1997, entered […]

Tags: , , , ,

Catogories: Hot Topics: Science in the News, Uncategorized
Read more

Try These End of School Year Testing Study Tips!

Written by: on April 20, 2017 @ 3:53 pm

  1. Designate a Study Area. Clear a designated study space at home or at your local library. Somewhere quiet with little distraction. 2. Get Organized. Make a list or better yet use a calendar to organize. Balance your homework, tests and extra curricular activities by using a planner. 3. Develop a Study Plan. You should create a […]

Tags: , ,

Catogories: Uncategorized
Read more