Primate hibernation more common than previously thought

Date:

Share post:

Until recently, the only primate known to hibernate as a survival strategy was a creature called the western fat-tailed dwarf lemur, a tropical tree-dweller from the African island of Madagascar.

Primate hibernation more common than previously thought
Fat-tailed dwarf lemurs from western Madagascar (like this captive animal from Duke Lemur Center) were the only primates known to hibernate until the discovery of two more dwarf lemur species that hibernate underground in Eastern Madagascar.[Credit: David Haring/Duke Lemur Center]

But it turns out this hibernating lemur isn’t alone. In a study appearing May 2 in the journal Scientific Reports, researchers report that two other little-known lemurs — Crossley’s dwarf lemur and Sibree’s dwarf lemur — burrow into the soft, spongy rainforest floor in the eastern part of Madagascar, curl up and spend the next three to seven months snoozing underground.

By comparing the hibernation habits of eastern dwarf lemurs and their western counterparts, researchers hope to shed light on what sends hibernating animals into standby mode, and whether lemurs — our closest genetic relatives known to hibernate — do it differently from other hibernating animals.

“Exactly what triggers hibernation is still an open question,” said lead author Marina Blanco a postdoctoral researcher at the Duke Lemur Center.

Primate hibernation more common than previously thought
Eastern dwarf lemur hibernating in its underground burrow

in Madagascar [Credit: Duke University]

Unlike animals such as bears and ground squirrels, which hibernate to survive the cold, western dwarf lemurs hibernate to survive during western Madagascar’s long dry season — a time when temperatures top 85 degrees, trees drop their leaves and food and water are in short supply.

But the hibernation habits of Madagascar’s eastern dwarf lemurs, whose homes include high-altitude forests where winter temperatures occasionally dip below freezing, were poorly known.

“It’s a very different environment,” Blanco said.

To find out more, Blanco and her colleagues trapped and fitted the squirrel-sized animals with temperature-sensitive radio collars before the start of the hibernation season, allowing them to find the lemurs’ underground burrows and monitor their body temperature once hibernation began.

Hibernating animals tend to breathe more slowly, drop their heart rate and lower their body temperature, becoming inactive for days at a time. Dwarf lemurs are no exception.

“To the casual observer, it looks for all the world as if the animals are dead. Their bodies are cold, they are utterly still and they take a breath only once every several minutes or so,” said co-author Anne Yoder, director of the Duke Lemur Center.

Western dwarf lemurs hibernate in drafty tree holes, where their body temperature fluctuates by as much as 20 degrees with the outside air. But the researchers found that eastern dwarf lemurs keep their body temperatures more constant in cozy underground burrows.

The research suggests that lemur hibernation — and therefore primate hibernation — may not be so different after all. “Maybe these lemurs, though they live in the tropics, look more like temperate hibernators than we thought,” Blanco said.

Source: Duke University [May 02, 2013]

ADVERTISEMENT

spot_img

Related articles

Alaskan clan says it may sue University of Pennsylvania to get items back

A federal advisory committee has recommended that the University of Pennsylvania return a trove of native artifacts it...

Amidst the ruins in Harappa

A well that was once used for supplying water to the local population. The inner boundary walls of...

Old bird, New World: Did the South American hoatzins originate in Europe?

The oldest fossil discoveries from France show that hoatzins once existed in Europe. Where did hoatzins come from?...

Debt crisis strikes Greek monuments, irks tourists

At the end of a sunny day on the Acropolis last month, Svein Davoy gazed awe-struck at the...

Researchers reveal when global warming first appeared

The indications of climate change are all around us today but now researchers have revealed for the first...

Study provides new look at ancient coastline, pathway for early Americans

The first humans who ventured into North America crossed a land bridge from Asia that is now submerged...

BigBrain: An ultra-high resolution 3D roadmap of the human brain

A landmark three-dimensional (3-D) digital reconstruction of a complete human brain, called the BigBrain, now for the first...

Scientists make tracks on dinosaur claw function

Paleontologists at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History and Dickinson Museum Center (North Dakota) have just published new...