Yearlong hibernation in a marsupial mammal

Abstract

Many mammals hibernate each year for about 6 months in autumn and winter and reproduce during spring and summer when they are generally not in torpor. I tested the hypothesis that the marsupial pygmy-possum (Cercartetus nanus), an opportunistic nonseasonal hibernator with a capacity for substantial fattening, would continue to hibernate well beyond winter. I also quantified how long they were able to hibernate without access to food before their body fat stores were depleted. Pygmy-possums exhibited a prolonged hibernation season lasting on average for 310 days. The longest hibernation season in one individual lasted for 367 days. For much of this time, despite periodic arousals after torpor bouts of ∼12.5 days, energy expenditure was reduced to only ∼2.5% of that predicted for active individuals. These observations represent the first report on body-fat-fuelled hibernation of up to an entire year and provide new evidence that prolonged hibernation is not restricted to placental mammals living in the cold.

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Acknowledgements

I would like to thank Nereda Christian, Rebecca Drury, and Wendy Westman for technical assistance as well as Bronwyn McAllan, Gerhard Körtner, and Chris Pavey for constructive comments on the manuscript. The Australian Research Council supported this work. Permits were provided by the New South Wales National Parks and Wildlife Service and the University of New England Animal Ethics Committee.

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Correspondence to Fritz Geiser.

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Geiser, F. Yearlong hibernation in a marsupial mammal. Naturwissenschaften 94, 941–944 (2007). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00114-007-0274-7

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Keywords

  • Australian mammal
  • Energy expenditure
  • Fat storage
  • Prolonged hibernation
  • Unpredictable climate