Hibernation

Miami University, Oxford, Ohio

Hibernation refers to the state in which animals pass the winter. In discussion of insects overwintering is often used as a synonym for hibernation; usually hibernation is associated with entry into a dormant state. Estivation is a term used for animals that become dormant in the summer. Some insects enter an extended period of dormancy, referred to as estivohibernation, which begins in summer and continues through the winter. This term also is used commonly in connection with those mammals that lower their body temperature slightly (e.g., carnivorean lethargy in bears and skunks) or extensively (e.g., hibernation sensu stricto in ground squirrels) during the winter.

It is critical for insects to synchronize their periods of feeding, growth, and reproductive activities with those times of the year when food is available and environmental conditions are suitable. Hibernation generally includes entry into diapause, a dormant state that promotes survival by depressing metabolism and energy utilization when host plants and other food sources are unavailable. Typically, this also includes reduced morphogenesis in immature stages; hibernating adults typically hibernate before reproducing.

Specific behavioral changes are often associated with movement to overwintering sites, termed hibernacula. One of the most extreme examples is the monarch butterfly (Danausplexippus), which may migrate more than 5000 km from southern Canada and New England to mountain sites in central Mexico. Other insects migrate locally as they move to hibernacula within the soil where they may burrow to avoid exposure to winter cold. Still others seek sites beneath rocks, logs, bark, and leaf litter.

In temperate regions, insects typically hibernate in a specific life stage. The egg, larva, and pupa are more common stages for overwintering than is the adult. However, alpine and polar insects or others living in extreme environments, in which growing seasons are short or unpredictable, and having life cycles that may be extended over several years may hibernate multiple times in one or more life stages.

In temperate regions, most hibernating insects enhance their resistance to environmental extremes, particularly cold and desiccation. During autumn, many species markedly enhance their tolerance to low temperature, termed cold-hardening. Most insects are freezing intolerant and are unable to survive freezing within their body fluids. These species typically enhance their capacity to supercool (i.e., remain unfrozen at temperatures below the melting point of their hemolymph) by synthesizing glycerol, sorbitol, trehalose, or other cryoprotective compounds, often at high concentrations of 1 M or more. Production of antifreeze proteins, avoidance of inoculative freezing by external ice, and ridding the body of ice nucleators that may catalyze ice formation are other mechanisms used to avoid lethal freezing.

In contrast, a few insects are freeze tolerant and can survive the freezing of 70% or more of their body water. Cryoprotectants are also commonly synthesized by freeze-tolerant species, as are ice-nucleating proteins that induce ice formation at high subzero temperatures. Overwintering insects also may acquire exceptionally high levels of desiccation resistance, comparable to those of desert species.

Behavioral and physiological changes associated with hibernation, diapause, and cold-hardening are commonly triggered by environmental cues, including photoperiod, temperature, moisture conditions, and changes in host plant quality. These cues ensure that adaptive responses occur before severe winter conditions arrive.

See Also the Following Articles

Aestivation • Cold/Heat Protection • Diapause • Dormancy • Monarchs

Further Reading

Danks, H. V. (1987). "Insect Dormancy: An Ecological Perspective."

Biological Survey of Canada (Terrestrial Arthropods), Ottawa. Denlinger, D. L., Giebultowicz, J. M., and Saunders, D. S. (eds.) (2001). "Insect Timing: Circadian Rhythmicity to Seasonality." Elsevier, Amsterdam.

Hallman, G. J., and Denlinger, D. L. (eds.) (1998). "Temperature Sensitivity in Insects and Application in Integrated Pest Management." Westview, Boulder, CO. Leather, S. E., Walters, K. F. A., and Bale, J. S. (1993). "The Ecology of

Insect Overwintering." Cambridge University Press, New York. Lee, R. E., and Denlinger, D. L. (eds.) (1991). "Insects at Low

Temperature." Chapman & Hall, New York. Tauber, M. J., Tauber, C. A., and Masaki, S. (1986). "Seasonal Adaptations of Insects." Oxford University Press, New York.

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