Hide, Winter is Coming!
By: Tori Bradford
There once lived an adventurous baby bear named Rufus: Rufus was afraid of nothing! He began to notice slight changes in the environment around him but didn't think much of it. Until, one morning when his mother, Mama Bear, was acting stranger than usual.
"Mama, what are you doing," asked Rufus.
Startled, Mama Bear responded: "oh, good morning Rufus; I didn't hear you get up. I am preparing for hibernation, and today, you will also learn what it means to hibernate."
Confused, Rufus said, "Hibernation, what's hibernation?"
"Hibernation is when animals, like ourselves, spend the winter months in a warm protective environment. During this process, animals go through a dormant stage, which means the growth cycle of our bodies and organs slowdown in order to let us rest peacefully for long periods of time," replied Mama Bear.
Not fully understanding the meaning or purpose of hibernation, Rufus said, "Don't worry Mama, winter won't get past me! I'll keep winter away so that we can continue playing in the green fields and catching as many fish as we can!"
"Oh Rufus, don't you see? Winter is nothing to be afraid of: It's just another part of Mother Nature's seasonal cycle," replied Mama Bear.
"What does that supposed to mean," asked Rufus.
Mama Bear was thrilled that Rufus wanted to learn more, so she continued to inform him about the details regarding winter and hibernation: "There are four seasons in a year: spring, summer, fall, and winter. During the winter, the weather becomes extremely cold; therefore, plants and animals find a way to stay alive throughout the winter months. Just like us, some plants go through a dormancy stage that slows down their metabolism, energy consumption, and growth. As a result, the fields that you love to play in will no longer have that vibrant green color. But don't worry, the fields will turn green again in the spring."
Rufus thought long and hard before he asked his next question: "I guess that makes sense, but how do you explain what we do when we have to, you know, do our business."
Mama Bear did a belly role laugh at Rufus's question but proceeded to respond: "It may seem strange but bears can last the entire winter without having to go to the bathroom. Although on some occasions, there may be those who use the restroom near the front of their den. We are capable of doing this because our bodies produce something called a fecal plug, which ultimately blocks our system. And, since we don't eat or drink during hibernation, there is no need for us to use the bathroom. Like I told you earlier, our bodies processing system slows down in order for us to hibernate."
Rufus blushed with embarrassment: "Okay mom, I think I understand that part of it now, so there is no need to go into detail!"
"Nature is a beautiful thing, don't you think so Rufus," asked Mama Bear.
This question, made Rufus think of another question he wanted to ask: "Speaking of nature, you mentioned something about a den. How is it made, and what is it exactly?"
Mama Bear began to walk away from Rufus only turning around to say "Follow me Rufus, and I will take you to the den that I have been preparing for us."
Mama Bear stood proudly in front of her den: "So Rufus, what do you think?"
"This is the den? It just looks like a small hole in the ground," Rufus said with a confused tone.
"Well, don't let the outward appearance fool you, the inside is actually very big and it has plenty of room for the both of us. The inside of the den is filled with tree bark and leaves for the floor cushion," Mama Bear said reassuringly.
Rufus was starting to get excited about the idea of hibernation: "That sounds really comfortable, I want to hibernate now!"
"Funny you should say that because today is the day that we begin our hibernation," said Mama Bear.
With a loud "Yippee" Rufus said, "Well, what are you waiting for? Let's go!"
Rufus ran past his mother and straight into the den: Mama Bear followed closely behind. Rufus did a few twists and turns before he could get comfortable, but then he finally settled down into the cushioned floor. Mama Bear nestled down next to Rufus and placed her head next to his.
With a sleepy voice, Rufus said, "Mama, how long do you think we are expected to hibernate for?"
"Well, we are expected to hibernate for up to five or seven months. Now, go to sleep my little cub," replied Mama Bear.
With Heavy eyes, Rufus fell asleep against the warm fur of his mother.
Mama Bear stared at her son admiringly and said "Sweet dreams, see you in the spring my dear."
Sahdo, B., Evans, A. L., Arnemo, J. M., Fröbert, O., Särndahl, E., & Blanc, S. (2013). Body Temperature during Hibernation Is Highly Correlated with a Decrease in Circulating Innate Immune Cells in the Brown Bear (Ursus arctos): A Common Feature among Hibernators? International Journal of Medical Sciences, 10(5), 508–514. http://doi.org/10.7150/ijms.4476
Evans, A. L., Singh, N. J., Friebe, A., Arnemo, J. M., Laske, T. G., Fröbert, O., … Blanc, S. (2016). Drivers of hibernation in the brown bear. Frontiers in Zoology, 13, 7. http://doi.org/10.1186/s12983-016-0140-6