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Unit Study: Wake Up and Learn About Hibernation!

  • Elece Hollis Contributing Writer
  • Published Feb 04, 2005
Unit Study: Wake Up and Learn About Hibernation!

Before I went to bed last night to sleep I put my computer into hibernate mode. The monitor screen went black. The temperature in the terminal dropped so the fans went off. The computer did no work and used much less electricity all night. And you thought only bears hibernated. Well, do bears hibernate? Yes and no, well . . . ? Yes, they do, but they are not true hibernators any more than bats, insects or opossums. There are types of hibernation and then there is sleep. Find out the five "w's" Who hibernates? Where? Why? What? and When?

Hibernation comes from the Latin word Hiberna which means winter. It refers to the "sleeping" or resting of an animal so that it can conserve energy and survive during periods of harsh weather. It seems mysterious and fascinating to us because it is not one of the easily observable activities of the animal kingdom.

Sleep is not hibernation, but it strongly resembles hibernation. What are the like characteristics? During sleep our brains process all the data collected since we last slept. The data is sorted—some deleted and what the brain decides to save is stored for reference. What occurs if the sleep process is interfered with or if the brain is unable to delete unneeded information? Does the mind become confused, develop learning disabilities or mental illness? As a person ages he may become forgetful or get Alzheimer's where the process of mental sorting does not work correctly. These people may forget important things and remember trivial items.

Animal Research:

There are several types of hibernation. Start a binder style notebook by gluing in pictures of different animals and labeling them by the type of hibernating characteristics they utilize. Be certain you include some of each of these: true or deep (groundhogs, chipmunks, bats and some birds), carnivorous lethargy (bears, skunks, raccoons and opossums), diurnal (snakes, fish, and frogs), diapause (insects), estivation or dormancy (hummingbirds, mice, and bats). This is a partial list. Some animals are called different names in different parts of our country. In some places the groundhog is called a woodchuck. In others he is referred to as a whistle pig, or a marmot. List all the different names you can find for each animal. In most cases only certain types of a species hibernates. Label your animals. Leave room on each page for extra notes as you learn.

Questions for Investigation:

Do butterflies hibernate in their cocoons? What is a lungfish? What weather conditions besides extreme cold cause hibernation? What if the weather is mild or hot and dry? Is food a factor? Where do hummingbirds go at night? Why don't they starve? Some cicadas stay underground for seven years. Is this hibernation of a sort?

Biology and Ethics:

Most biologists agree that the hibernation instinct is regulated by the hypothalamus gland. Some scientists claim to have discovered hibernation genes in humans which our ancestors used to hibernate during harsh cold weather. I do not believe this is true or that people hibernated. These scientists hope to find a way to make people hibernate by manipulating these genes. This would, they think, make the person's body use up stored fat. They would not wake enough to eat and so would wake finally slim and trim. Do you see any ethical problems with this? Write an essay or story about what could go wrong with such a plan and what it might entail.

HIT, Hibernating Inducement Trigger is a chemical found in the blood of animals that hibernate. Some experiments have been done that involved taking blood from hibernating animals, freezing it and then in the spring season injecting it into active animals.

Some scientists think body parts could be warehoused by injecting them with HIT. Therefore, the parts could be stored, moved and used for transplants without the time constraints now imposed. Discuss how such a system could work. Why do you think it is or isn't a viable objective? What problems do you see with it?

Another future use of the research done by some biologists suggests the use of hibernation imposed on astronauts to conserve food and oxygen during space travel. Write a space story about astronauts hibernating.

Effects of Hibernation:

Make bar graphs or other charts showing the body temperature, heart rate changes and sleep/wake patterns found in hibernating animals.

Make a calendar showing the months that certain animals, birds, amphibians and insects hibernate. Show the types of weather in each season and thus show why each animal would be hibernating then. Decorate your calendar with animal pictures and natural scenery.

Biologists have attached radio beepers to collars on bear's necks and followed them, studying their habits during cold weather. What have they learned? How can this knowledge help animal control officers and animal preservationists control the population of bears and help preserve their numbers? What have scientists learned of the birth and early months of bear's lives? Why do you think bears are born twins, and why are they born during the winter?

What the Bible Says:

What verses can you find that refer to sleep and hibernation? Copy five passages about sleeping into your book. Find a verse that says God does not slumber. Find one that says we should sleep and that God gives us rest. How important is good rest to your overall health? Can you find any verses about sleep that are referring to being lazy? Look in Proverbs. Sometimes in the Bible death is referred to as sleep. Why? Read 1 Corinthians 15:51-56. What is the "Great Mystery" spoken of here? The book of I Thessalonians (4:13-15) talks about persons who have died and will be raised again when Christ returns. This "sleeping" until Christ returns refers to physical death.

Books for Further Reading:

- My favorite book about hibernation is Do Not Disturb By Margery Facklam. It was published in 1989 by Little, Brown and Company
- Fun with Nature Take-Along Guide by Northword Press, 1999
- Handbook of Nature Study by Anna Botsford Comstock

Search for five other books to read on the subject. List these in your notebook. Write a sentence or two after each title describing the teachings of each book.

Vocabulary Enrichment:

Define these words in your notebook. Learn the definitions and spellings of each word. Add to the list any new words you come across in your reading.
- Aestivate
- Hibernate
- Hibernacle
- Hibernaculum
- Estivate
- Biology
- Dormant
- Hypothalamus
- Diurnal
- Thermostat
- Circadian rhythm
- Amphibian
- Predictive
- Consequential
- Diapause
- Obligatory
- Poikilothermic
- Torpor


Choose an animal to study fully. Collect pictures from magazines and place them in your notebook. Research fully the habits of the animal. Is it a hibernator? How do we know? What type of hibernation does it use? What are its habits? Add this report to your binder.

Hibernation is an amazing process. Our Creator built into His creatures the abilities and physical characteristics that would help animals and humans live healthy, productive lives on the earth. Many attribute the lifesaving instincts and miraculous attributes of animals to someone they call "Mother Nature". This is a false teaching that has become almost universally accepted in our modern society. The book of Job can help you better understand who God is and how, as the song says, "He's got the whole world in His hands."

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Elece Hollis is a freelance writer and a stay-at-home mom. She and her husband Ron have seven children and eight grandchildren. Elece lives in eastern Oklahoma, near Okmulgee.

This Unit Study was originally published in the Jan/Feb '05 issue of Home School Enrichment Magazine. For more information, visit