Why Does Hammy the Squirrel Hibernate?
When it’s cold, ground squirrels hibernate to save body fat. Fortunately, they don’t feel the cold and they recycle urea with gut microbes. But what really causes Hammy the squirrel to hibernate? Here are some reasons. Let’s start with a few myths about squirrels:
Ground squirrels hibernate to conserve body fat
During the winter, ground squirrels hibernate in their burrows deep underground. Their body temperature is around -2deg Celsius, and their heart beats only once every 15 seconds. The ground temperature begins to warm as the days lengthen. Their metabolism slows down to a crawl and they stop breathing for minutes at a time. When the weather warms, they emerge from their burrows and begin foraging again.
To survive in the cold, these small animals turn off their metabolisms. They spend most of their time asleep, not eating and peeing. During this period, their brain cells retract, preventing blood flow. Blood flow drops ninety percent, depriving them of oxygen. In comparison, if this occurred in a human, they would die within minutes. However, this is a common process for animals.
They do not feel cold
Many animals have evolved to survive extreme cold temperatures. Interestingly, some animals are able to remain at a body temperature of 0degC for more than two weeks, while others are unable to survive such extreme temperatures. This adaptation is what makes a squirrel hibernate in the first place, and can also be used as a way to study the physiology of cold weather.
A squirrel’s body temperature must be at least 40 degrees Fahrenheit for it to be considered cold. While some species have adapted to subzero temperatures by bulking up and building a fatter coat, others do not. The northern flying squirrel, for example, does not put on thick fur or store food like other species do. Instead, it finds energy by huddling in tight nests to conserve body heat and stay warm.
They recycle urea with gut microbes
We are all aware that we produce urea, but did you know that the squirrel is able to recycle some of it with the help of his gut microbes? Urea is a biomolecule composed of ammonia and carbon dioxide. It is important to the body because it provides the necessary nitrogen for building muscle and tissue. Moreover, the urea recycling process is influenced by the microbiome of the animal, which is largely responsible for its survival. Urea recycling by squirrels helps them maintain protein levels and body mass during hibernation.
In hibernation, the animal reduces its energy requirement by utilizing fat reserves to meet its daily requirements. This allows it to maintain a balanced protein and muscle mass, even without food. During this time, the gut microbiota of the squirrel plays a major role in this process, converting urea into amino acids, which the squirrel can then use for building muscle and maintaining energy. The microbiota of a hibernator’s gut contains the highest concentration of urea transporters, which are responsible for converting the amino acids into protein.
They can move very fast
The squirrels in “Over the Hedge” can move so fast, it can easily make the world seem to stand still. Despite this fact, they can move as fast as birds. The movie shows Hammy the squirrel drinking energy drinks and running so fast, it seems like time has stopped. A similar scenario happens when Scrat in “Ice Age” hops up in three or four frames.
On the first day of spring, the woodland animals awaken. Unfortunately, they find that much of the forest has been converted into human homes. The animals wonder how they will survive without their winter reserves. Luckily, RJ, the leader of the group, encourages the animals to steal food from humans. But RJ doesn’t think Hammy will take it. In fact, he’ll even go as far as to steal food from RJ.
They have enough body fat to survive the winter
Squirrels are not slowing down, thanks to the abundance of food and warmer temperatures. And it seems that Hammy the squirrel has more body fat than he needs to survive the winter, at least based on recent photographs. So what does this mean for humans? In the winter, squirrels are required to pack on the fat in order to survive. This is how they prepare themselves for the cold season and stay warm.
Squirrels are notoriously hardy, but Hammy the squirrel has enough body fat to make it through the winter. This film subverts many animal stereotypes, and even features the American Gothic Couple on a whiteboard in the credits. The movie is a family-friendly comedy and is sure to please children. It’s a perfect family movie for children of all ages.
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.