How Does the Arctic Ground Squirrel Cleanse Its Blood?
Did you know that the arctic ground squirrels use a chemical messenger to cleanse their blood? This chemical messenger can break up ice crystals and destroy cells, making the animal’s blood purer. The process also increases the body’s temperature and metabolic rate every 20 days. This process takes about 12 hours, and scientists don’t know why it works. But the benefits to the animal’s health are clear.
arctic ground squirrels release a chemical messenger
Arctic ground squirrels are among the smallest mammals, and this adaptation to cold temperatures may explain their ability to maintain organs for weeks at a time. This remarkable trait could also be beneficial to those who transplant organs. Researchers at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks implanted radio transmitters in the squirrels’ stomachs and monitored their body temperature while they slept. They found that when they enter torpor, their blood temperature drops several degrees below zero without harming the squirrels.
Researchers discovered that this enzyme is produced by the mitochondria, the powerhouse of the cell. This enzyme uses oxygen to create energy. It is important for metabolic processes, and the arctic ground squirrel version of this protein, called ATP5G1, was found to increase the cell’s resistance to stress. Despite the importance of the protein, researchers are not yet sure what role the Arctic ground squirrels’ chemical messenger plays in regulating the body’s metabolism.
they reduce metabolic rate
The arctic ground squirrel’s annual cycle is marked by intensive energy deposition and use. Before hibernation, the animals undergo an intense fattening phase. Interestingly, the hormone leptin, produced by white adipose tissue, reverses obesity in both rodent genetic models and in wild species. However, recombinant leptin in mice does not reduce food intake or adiposity during the pre-hibernation fattening process. The findings also indicate that animals may lack a negative feedback mechanism that could control body weight.
Hibernation is an energy-conserving strategy involving physiological and behavioral adaptations to maintain a low metabolic rate and cyclic metabolism regulation. The arctic ground squirrel exhibits extreme hibernation conditions, sustaining core body temperature of -2.9degC for up to three weeks. These physiological responses are essential for survival during a harsh environment. When temperatures are reduced below -29degC, the arctic ground squirrel’s metabolic rate increases.
they maintain peak mass
The Arctic ground squirrel is a circumpolar species that endures some of the most extreme winters on earth. Their active period is only three weeks, while most other rodents would freeze to death in just an hour. Because the cold is so extreme, this is a remarkable feat of survival. In fact, scientists have studied the heartbeat of an Arctic ground squirrel during hibernation and found that it slows down to prevent blood clots.
The diet of the arctic ground squirrel has been studied by various researchers. Researchers from the Smithsonian have discovered that these squirrels cleanse their blood to maintain peak mass. Their diet and hibernation patterns have been described in the Smithsonian Book of North American Mammals by Iwen, F., and Frank, C., who also studied the males’ reproductive success.
they reverse torpor
When winter approaches, the Arctic ground squirrels retreat to burrows that are over a meter below the tundra, curled up in nests made of grass, lichen, and caribou hair. During this period, their heart rate, lungs, and blood flow slow dramatically. Many parts of their brains shut off. Almost seven months later, they resurface and begin their daily routine. In this way, they reverse torpor, cleansing their blood and ensuring a healthy life.
During torpor, the body uses 90 percent of the oxygen available. This decrease in metabolism causes the ground squirrel to lower its body temperature, heart rate, and breathing rate. However, during arousal, oxygen consumption increases to meet the metabolic demands of thermogenesis, a process fuelled by the oxidation of stored fat during fall. In both of these physiological processes, RBCs play a key role in oxygen transport and off-loading. These cells contain metabolic signaling cascades that promote tissue oxygenation and off-loading of oxygen.
Jessica Watson is a PHD holder from the University of Washington. She studied behavior and interaction between squirrels and has presented her research in several wildlife conferences including TWS Annual Conference in Winnipeg.