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Equal Parts Sleeping and Eating

A Year in the Life of a Bear


Author(s)

Scott J. Donnelly
Science Division
Arizona Western College
scott.donnelly@azwestern.edu

Abstract

Every year during the foodless winter months, bears enter their den and lapse into a state of extended dormancy and slumber (called hibernation). For the next 130+ consecutive days they do not drink, eat, defecate, or urinate. Rarely do they die from starvation, dehydration, or poisoning from waste buildup while hibernating. How do bears prepare for this period of starvation coupled with significant weight loss? Bears are not only the champions of winter rest, but are also the undisputed champions of non-stop summer eating. They are constantly on the move during late spring and all summer long into late autumn oftentimes covering great distances over diverse habitats in their incessant search for locally and seasonally available food. In this case study, students learn the basics about bear denning, hibernation energetics, the differences in size of bear home ranges, and the nutritional landscape they must navigate to prepare for the long months of winter inactivity and caloric deprivation. The case is suitable for a wide audience, including majors or non-majors in lower- or upper-level undergraduate courses in environmental science, ecology, biology, or wildlife science.


Objectives

  • Identify environmental and biological factors that “trigger” a bear to enter and emerge from their winter den.
  • Discuss basic metabolic and physiological adjustments during hibernation needed for bears to survive a cold, foodless winter.
  • Analyze data related to the differences in size of bears’ home ranges.
  • Learn about bears’ dietary habits and nutritional ecology.

Keywords

Black bears; grizzly bears; metabolism; Yellowstone; brown bears; hibernation; wildlife; energetics; bears; denning; home range; caloric deprivation

Topical Areas

N/A

Educational Level

Undergraduate lower division, Undergraduate upper division

Format

PDF

Type / Methods

Discussion, Interrupted

Language

English

Subject Headings

Ecology  |   Environmental Science  |   Interdisciplinary Sciences  |   Wildlife Management  |  


Date Posted

05/05/2021

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