Today for Endangered Thursdays, we’re going to expand a little bit and talk about a survival tactics used by mostly reptiles and amphibians in order to survive extremely cold weather conditions. This process is known as brumation. It’s a little bit similar to hibernation but different. Hibernation generally applies to mammals. Unlike reptiles and amphibians, mammals are warm blooded. This means they can regulate their own body temperature; i.e., when it’s hot, they can cool themselves off and when its cold they can warm themselves up. Hibernation occurs in either freezing cold weather or extremely hot weather. In extremely hot conditions, mammals usually dig burrows or relocate deep into caves where its cooler and will reemerge when outside temperatures decrease. Mammals who usually hibernate in the winter “stock up”, so to speak, their body fat by consuming lots of food leading up to the winter months. When they go into hibernation, they slow down their metabolic processes, sometimes up to 95%, preserve energy. The energy they are living off of comes from that storage of extra body fat that keeps them alive throughout the months of cold where they aren’t eating and are just in long state of dormancy.
Now, I had never heard of brumation before. I always just called what my turtle did in the cold months hibernation or torpor. Torpor, however, is a temporary dormancy that is short lived in comparison to brumation which lasts about as long as a hibernation period. A lot of people have never seen this process before because most reptiles and amphibians seen in a zoo or sanctuary live in a climate controlled environment so they don’t necessarily have to hibernate or brumate. Brumation and torpor apply to reptiles and amphibians because they are cold blooded and so the process is a little different. An animal that is cold blooded cannot regulate it’s own body temperature. Instead, it matches it’s temperature to its surroundings. When reptiles and amphibians go into brumation, they slow their metabolic processes to a point where they almost cease to exist. Unlike mammals who live off their fat storage for energy, reptiles and amphibians can just go without eating for several months. It’s one long fast and let me tell you, when they come out of it, they are ravenous.
Sometimes brumation is also referred to as a state of suspended animation. This means the reptiles and amphibians truly look dead but they actually aren’t. For example, in Florida this year, the people as well as the animals experienced some record low temperatures. Iguanas who had no idea it was going to get so cold, were falling out of trees! People thought they were falling out of the trees because they were dying. One man who considered iguanas to be a delicacy started collecting the “dead” iguanas because he thought he was stocking up on meat for many months. He got a rude awakening when he put them in his heated car and the woke back up with a vengeance. Iguana zombie apocalypse anyone?
To best show you brumation fully, check out this video below showing alligators in a state of brumation at a wild life rescue preserve in North Carolina. Here they are sticking only their snouts out of the water so they can breathe while the rest of them is frozen beneath the surface of the swamp. It’s really quite cool.
Have you ever heard of brumation or torpor before? Let me know in the comments below!