Animals at the extremes: Hibernation and torpor
Animals at the extremes: Hibernation and torpor

This free course is available to start right now. Review the full course description and key learning outcomes and create an account and enrol if you want a free statement of participation.

Free course

Animals at the extremes: Hibernation and torpor

3 Characteristics of hibernation behaviour

3.1 Introduction

The animal kingdom reveals a bewildering variety of regulated hypothermic behaviours, which are characterized by sustained hibernation at one extreme and regular short bouts of shallow torpor at the other. The many patterns observed and the variety of animal groups that exhibit these behaviours have not made it any easier to work out why different animals adopt their own strategies. Elephant shrews (Elephantulus myurus), which live in the relatively moderate climate of southern Africa for example, reduce their T b to one of the lowest levels seen in mammals in which frequent torpor bouts are observed. Torpor occurs with complete recovery about five times a day over the winter months, with the T b falling to as low as 7.5° C at a T a of 2.5° C. It seems that elephant shrews, whose body temperature fluctuates closely with environmental temperature cycles, are budgeting their energy by using – as heterotherms do – passive heating to assist their return to normal T b levels in the spring. In Section 3 we will consider the physiology of ‘typical’ hibernators, but there are new extremes of behaviour still to be explained, and no doubt yet to be discovered.


Take your learning further

Making the decision to study can be a big step, which is why you'll want a trusted University. The Open University has 50 years’ experience delivering flexible learning and 170,000 students are studying with us right now. Take a look at all Open University courses.

If you are new to university level study, find out more about the types of qualifications we offer, including our entry level Access courses and Certificates.

Not ready for University study then browse over 900 free courses on OpenLearn and sign up to our newsletter to hear about new free courses as they are released.

Every year, thousands of students decide to study with The Open University. With over 120 qualifications, we’ve got the right course for you.

Request an Open University prospectus