Last month a movie called Paddington came out. It chronicles the adventures of a bear that travels from his home in darkest Peru to find a new place to live in London. Paddington is a type of bear called the spectacled bear and is the only bear native to South America. To learn more about bears and hibernation, we can look a little closer to home. North America is home to several species of bear: the black bear, the brown (or grizzly) bear, and the polar bear.
In early autumn, after the bear has fattened itself up as much as possible, it is time to begin building its den. The bear rakes leaves, twigs and other bedding material into a den that it often digs out of the earth with its claws. It makes its enclosure very tight, with just enough room to squeeze in. This helps it retain more heat during the cold winter. During this autumn period, the bear’s body begins to transition to get ready for hibernation. Its metabolic rate and heart rate slow down considerably.
It reduces its breathing to once every 45 seconds, lowers its body temperature to about 88 degrees Fahrenheit (about 12 degrees lower than normal), and lowers its heart rate to 8 to 21 beats per minute.
It doesn’t eat, drink, or go to the bathroom, yet it does not get dehydrated or build up toxic waste in its body. Instead, a bear’s body recycles waste from the bladder into usable proteins?
The bear can remain like this for several months, until spring thaw occurs and food sources are available again.
When I look at the big picture of a bear’s hibernation, it’s tempting to think of sleeping the winter away! But just think of how many months you would miss! If you were a bear in Northern Minnesota, you’d miss about 8 months every year! In the end, I think I prefer our human adaptations – bundling up as much as possible! What about you?
How to hibernate like a bear - activity
- Blankets and pillows
- Bear food (draw it onto cereal boxes and cut it out – be sure to include lots of berries and nuts!)
- Your imagination!
What to Do:
Pretend that you are a black bear, starting in the summer months and going all through winter hibernation into spring. What will you do in each stage of the year?
1. Summer – You are eating and drinking as much as you possibly can to prepare for upcoming winter!
2. Fall – You are building your den with the pillows and blankets. Make sure to make it big enough to fit into it but small enough that you’ll stay nice and warm!
3. Winter – You are hibernating! Make sure you roll up into a tight ball and put your paws over your nose. If you’re a mother bear, make sure that you wake up every once and a while to take care of your new cubs!
4. Spring – It’s time to wake up from hibernation. Remember, you will be very groggy at first! Take your time waking up. Then, go explore with your new cubs!