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Wikenigma - an Encyclopedia of Unknowns Wikenigma - an Encyclopedia of the Unknown

Hibernation

Hibernation is an adaptive strategy characterized by a drastic suppression of metabolism, activity and body temperature that allows animals to survive during periods with little or no food availability; hibernation is widespread among mammals. Two types of mammalian hibernators exist: obligate hibernators, such as black bears and ground squirrels, hibernate every winter under the regulation of a circannual clock whose molecular mechanisms are largely unknown."

Source : Decreases in body temperature and body mass constitute pre-hibernation remodelling in the Syrian golden hamster, a facultative mammalian hibernator open accessRoyal Society Open Science, Apr. 2016.

Some mammals - notably the Arctic Ground Squirrel - can reach and maintain body temperatures of โˆ’2.9 ยฐC for several months. It's not currently known how it's possible for the animals to do this without fatal damage caused by blood freezing and nerve-cell death.

In addition to the mystery surrounding how hibernation is triggered and maintained, there is also no explanation as to how and why hibernating animals often come out of hibernation for short periods and then return.

Obligate hibernators are animals that spontaneously, and annually, enter hibernation regardless of ambient temperature and access to food. Obligate hibernators include many species of ground squirrels, other rodents, mouse lemurs, the European hedgehog and other insectivores, monotremes, marsupials, and even butterflies such as the small tortoiseshell. These undergo what has been traditionally called "hibernation": the physiological state where the body temperature drops to near ambient (environmental) temperature, and heart and respiration rates slow drastically. The typical winter season for these hibernators is characterized by periods of torpor interrupted by periodic, euthermic arousals, wherein body temperatures and heart rates are restored to euthermic (more typical) levels. The cause and purpose of these arousals is still not clear. The question of why hibernators may experience the periodic arousals (returns to high body temperature) has plagued researchers for decades, and while there is still no clear-cut explanation, there are myriad hypotheses on the topic."

Source and further reading Wikipedia

Note : It has been suggested that some animals periodically come out of hibernation in order to sleepplugin-autotooltip__plain plugin-autotooltip_bigSleep

"The purposes and mechanisms of sleep are only partially clear and are the subject of intense research"

Source Wikipedia"

Although extensive research in humans and animals has shown unequivocally that sleep is essential, the reasons why it's required are as yet unknown. Long term sleep deprivation not only severely impairs cognitive and motor skills, it's now been shown that it can cause physical damage to brain structure - and, in extreme cases, irreversible damage.

Artificially induced hibernation

A report in Nature Metabolism volume 5, pages 789โ€“803 (2023) details research by Washington University in St. Louis and the University of Washington, US, which found that it's possible to flip some animals into a hibernation-like state by using focussed ultrasound to target a specific brain area (the hypothalamus preoptic area or POA).

See: Induction of a torpor-like hypothermic and hypometabolic state in rodents by ultrasound

it's not currently known, however, how the process works :

Ultrasound is the only available energy form that can non invasively penetrate the skull and focus on any location within the brain with millimeter precision and without ionizing radiation. These capabilities, along with its safety, portability and low cost, have made ultrasound a promising technology for neuromodulation in small animals, non-human primates and humans, although its mechanism remains elusive."

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