Torpor vs. Hibernation: What’s the Difference?

The animal kingdom has countless tricks to survive harsh weather conditions and long, cold winters. From snuggling up in a cave to sleep away the worst of it, to turning off all but the most basic functions as a way to save energy, we explain the differences between the ways these animals survive.

What is hibernation?

When temperatures are lower and food is harder to find, animals from mice to birds and bats go into long deep sleep. In Britain, the Wildlife Trust lists only three species that actually hibernate: bats, dormice and hedgehogs.

Hibernation means that body processes will slow down almost completely, with reduced heart and breathing rates. To save energy, metabolism is reduced and animals survive in this state by using the fat reserves they built up in the fall. Hibernating animals look almost dead and most likely feel cold. According to National Geographic, the Arctic ground squirrel (Spermophilus parryii) can cool their bodies to subzero temperatures for hibernation.

In true hibernation, the heart rate is also reduced. According to Scientific American dwarf lemurs (genus Cheirogaleus) in Madagascar have a typical active heart rate of about 180 beats per minute. During hibernation this can be as low as 4 beats per minute.

What is anesthesia?

Torpor is hibernation’s most overlooked cousin. In this state, an animal’s metabolism, heart rate, and breathing slow down in the same way as during hibernation. However, torpor is easier to enter and emerge from, and does not last as long as true hibernation. A state of torpor can even occur every day and is usually a trend in endotherms living in arid areas.

The fat-tailed dunnart (Sminthopsis crassicaudata) is a carnivorous marsupial and may use this daily torpor to survive when its insect diet may be sparse.

Birds love the common arms (Phalaenoptilus nuttallii), whose name means “sleeping one,” can also go into stupor, writes the Audubon Society. Compared to hibernation, topor does not last as long and does not have the same drastic effect on the body’s internal temperature.

Do bears hibernate?

Many people are told that bears hibernate during the long winter, but scientists aren’t sure if this is entirely true. It could be that bears are in torpor more often because their metabolism is greatly reduced, but their body temperature does not drop. A drop in body temperature may be too difficult to wake up from.

What is brumation?

Reptiles, including snakes, and amphibians undergo a type of state similar to hibernation called hibernation. In North Carolina and Texas, crocodiles were seen lying under frozen ice, with only their snouts visible. This again shows the major signs of impaired breathing and metabolism, but the animals will continue to drink, but not eat, and are not in as deep a state of sleep.

What is aestivation?

While hibernation, torpor, and hibernation are typically thought of as ways to survive cold weather, there is another breed of state animals that can come in to survive extreme temperatures. Aestivation is most often seen in fish and invertebrates and helps prevent animals from dehydration. Just like hibernation, it is also about slowing down an animal’s metabolism. Unlike hibernation, aestivation can end quite quickly when weather conditions improve.

African lungfish (Protopterus annectens) can reproduce by enveloping themselves in cocoons of slime during a drought, according to National Geographic.

Can humans hibernate?

Although humans can enter sleep states, such as medically induced comas, humans cannot actually hibernate. However, animals’ remarkable ability to undergo these complex survival methods is being explored by NASA for their potential applications to human spaceflight.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *