Hibernation Situation

Been reading about hibernation lately, particularly after my sister (a wildlife vet) told me that the bears that I thought hibernated for the winter “didn’t really hibernate.” Instead, she said, they “kind of” hibernated, but it wasn’t true hibernation. The conversation got cut short, so I never really found out what the difference between the real and kinda hibernation and I was left wondering if the childhood stories of bears hibernating were similar to childhood stories of santa.

Unfortunately, most of the articles I can find are really basic stuff oriented toward kids, but they do give a good short answer, like this article on torpor, hibernation, and estivation. Basically it says there is hibernation, in which an animal’s temperature drops dramatically and their heartbeat slows — in this state the animal can be incredibly hard to wake up because it’s in this weird comotose state. This is good because the animal doesn’t burn a lot of calories during the winter when there is no food to be had, but it’s bad because a predator could come and eat it without it waking up to run away.

Then there is the “kinda hibernation” my sister was talking about, which is called torpor. In this state the animal basically just sleeps a lot — this also reduces caloric burn, but the animal can wake up like normal if there’s danger. Bears fall into this category, but according to the article they can go into torpor and sleep “for up to six months” without eating or drinking. I’m not entirely clear on how that’s different from hibernation, frankly. I guess the difference is that if you poke the bear with a stick, it will wake up and eat you.

Another article on torpor, hibernation, and estivation contradicts this somewhat, suggesting that the primary difference between hibernation and torpor is that hibernation is voluntary, and torpor is involuntary (and estivation, by the way, is doing either during the summer rather than the winter). This article ignores bears entirely and suggests that bats and rodents enter torpor when it gets too cold and their bodies shut down — but doesn’t suggest that they can spring up and eat your face when poked.

I’m chalking this up as a failure of the internet, rather than a failure of my patience to look further for a good information source, because the former makes me feel better.

I kinda like the idea of a freezing raid zone, ala ICC, where the temp is so low that pets randomly go into torpor. Sure, that sounds like a good way to screw the hunter class, but just think of how much worse it would be for feral druids!

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