Register for an account

X

Enter your name and email address below.

Your email address is used to log in and will not be shared or sold. Read our privacy policy.

X

Website access code

Enter your access code into the form field below.

If you are a Zinio, Nook, Kindle, Apple, or Google Play subscriber, you can enter your website access code to gain subscriber access. Your website access code is located in the upper right corner of the Table of Contents page of your digital edition.

Planet Earth

Hot-Weather Hibernators

Not every hibernating animal goes into a deep slumber because it's cold.

By Jocelyn SelimOctober 1, 2004 5:00 AM

Newsletter

Sign up for our email newsletter for the latest science news

Hibernation is a simple concept: In response to cold weather, an animal enters suspended animation to conserve resources until warm days return. Somebody forgot to explain this to the fat-tailed dwarf lemur, a foot-long primate in Madagascar that hibernates even though winter temperatures there range into the 70s and 80s.

“Natives suspected that these animals might be undergoing some kind of dormancy response because they suddenly disappear during winter,” says Kathrin Dausmann, a biologist at Philipps University in Marburg, Germany. Curious, she and her colleagues outfitted the elusive primates with radio transmitters and followed them over several seasons. The lemurs were definitely hibernating, the only tropical mammal—and the only primates—known to do so.

Since cold weather isn’t a problem, why do fat-tailed lemurs drop out? Dausmann suggests that they save energy during food-scarce winter months by minimizing their investment in body-temperature regulation. “Winter temperatures on Madagascar fluctuate widely, sometimes more than 36 degrees in a 24-hour period. Maintaining a constant body temperature is energetically expensive,” she says. So the lemurs grow plump during the summer, when food is abundant, then hole up in trees and let their bodies fluctuate with the weather. “If they stored fat all over, they’d overheat, so it all goes to their tails,” Dausmann says. “They get a bit odd looking.”

    3 Free Articles Left

    Want it all? Get unlimited access when you subscribe.

    Subscribe

    Already a subscriber? Register or Log In

    Want unlimited access?

    Subscribe today and save 70%

    Subscribe

    Already a subscriber? Register or Log In