Dormancy To Survive Winter – Different Kinds

dormancyMany forms of life choose a different winter survival strategy to survive the cold, snowy winters of the Rocky Mountains.  Do you know what these different types of dormancy are?

Ever since I was a kid I remember learning how bears go into hibernation during winter.  I know that basically hibernation means that they are in a deep sleep all winter.  I have also heard about other forms of life surviving winter by entering a state of diapause or torpor.  Here is a quick explanation of what those all mean and what forms of life do each.

Winer Survival Strategies

Animals, including mammals, choose one of many different strategies to survive winter.  One of these strategies is to stay in the Rocky Mountains and to simply ‘sleep’ or wait out the winter.  Different forms of life go into a state of dormancy.  There are different degrees or levels of dormancy that are basically based on how deep of a sleep the organism is going into.

Dormancy

It is a period in an organism’s life cycle when growth, and development is temporarily stopped.  This can be something that is done for a short or a long period of time.  All of the following terms are different kinds of dormancy undertaken by different kinds of life.

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Deciduous trees enter a state of dormancy during winter in the Rocky Mountains.

For plants and trees – dormancy is their strategy to survive winter.  Plants and trees are said to go dormant during winter, which for them means they lose their leaves (if a deciduous tree/plant) and stop growth and development.

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Raccoons and other small mammals go into torpor at night, but are active during the day during winter.

Torpor

Torpor is a short term reduction in body temperature, metabolism, and breathing.  It is usually done by small animals and lasts for less than 24 hours.

This is sometimes undertaken by birds to survive cold nights.  They lower their body temperatures at night and then increase them during the day again.

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Chipmunks are one of the few animals that are true hibernators.

Hibernation

Hibernation is a survival strategy, mainly used by mammals, to survive the cold, snowy winters when there is a lack of food available.  In true hibernation the animal does not wake up at all until spring time and is in a deep sleep – thus, extreme dormancy.  During hibernation an animal has a lower heart rate and body temperature.  For more about hibernation read this old post.

Brumation

It is a period in a reptiles life when the animal enters a dormant state with a lower heart rate and body temperature, and a reduced metabolism.

It is a way for reptiles to survive a cold winter. Reptiles are a cold-blooded animal (ectothermic) so they get their body temperature from the external environment. This means when it is freezing outside they can’t maintain a high enough body temperature to survive, so they enter brumation.

This is a good example of dormancy that is done by reptiles.  It is similar to hibernation in mammals.

Diapause

It is a form of dormancy when a animal, most usually bugs, take a break from developing due to bad external conditions (such as freezing cold). In other words, it is as if the animal simply takes a break until the conditions outside are more favorable.

Diapause is common in insects and allows them to stop their development between fall and spring time.  For many insects this happens because if they were to continue to develop during winter they would simply die due to the cold weather.