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Animals at the extremes: Hibernation and torpor

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Hibernation is an ingenious adaptation that some animals employ to survive difficult conditions in winter. This free course, Animals at the extremes: Hibernation and torpor, examines the differences between hibernation and torpor, and discusses the characteristic signs of hibernation behaviour. It explores the triggers that bring on hibernation, and whether internal signals or external season cues are predominant. It also examines the physiological adaptations that occur in hibernating animals.

By the end of this free course you should be able to:

  • define and use, or recognize definitions and applications of, each of the bold terms;
  • give definitions of the terms ‘hibernation’, ‘torpor’ and ‘adaptive hypothermia’, and the three physiological processes that underlie them;
  • give examples of the diversity of the major groups of mammals and birds that contain hibernating species;
  • describe the physiological changes occurring during entry to hibernation and at least three of the cues that may trigger entry;
  • present evidence to show that hibernating mammals and birds retain physiological control of their T
  • explain the role of brown adipose tissue and mitochondrial uncoupling of respiration from metabolic energy release in heat generation in mammals;
  • describe the analytical and targeted experimental approaches to the identification of genes and proteins implicated in hibernation and arousal, and give examples of them;
  • explain the importance of the selection of appropriate metabolic fuel sources in hibernators;
  • describe the changes needed to maintain hibernation and survival at cellular level;
  • critically describe experiments designed to evaluate the energy cost of hibernation as compared with euthermia, and discuss the importance of three factors that influence whether animals use hibernation as an energy-conserving strategy;
  • suggest why periodic arousals occur and offer a mechanism for them;
  • present experimental evidence for the view that control of T
    b depends upon temperature-sensitive neurons and suggest where they may be located;
  • give examples of systems of chemical control for the onset and maintenance of hibernation that operate in the brain and blood circulation;
  • describe the relationship between circadian controls of sleep–waking cycles and the maintenance of torpor;
  • use diagrams and flow-charts to illustrate physiological and biochemical principles.

By: The Open University

  • Duration 14 hours
  • Updated Wednesday 20th July 2011
  • Intermediate level
  • Posted under Natural History
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Animals at the extremes: Hibernation and torpor


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This is the second in a series of three units on Animals at the extremes. In order to get the most from it, you should have previously studied Animals at the extremes: The desert environment (S324_1) [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] . After completing this unit you might like to complete the series by studying Animals at the extremes: Polar biology (S324_3).

This unit is from our archive and it is an adapted extract from Animal physiology (S324), which is no longer in presentation. If you wish to study formally at The Open University, you may wish to explore the courses we offer in this curriculum area.

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