Ask a Naturalist: What's the difference between hibernation and brumation?

November 10, 2020

Written by Sara Tabatabai

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Both hibernation and brumation are a type of inactivity in which the animal’s body temperature, heart rate, metabolic rate, and respiratory rate all drop. The difference is that hibernation is a term used to describe certain species of these endotherms (warm-blooded animals such as mammals) who undergo this process and brumation is used for ectotherms (cold-blooded animals; specifically, reptiles and amphibians).

Many of us think of bears when we hear hibernation. In reality, bears are not true hibernators. Instead, they go into a state of torpor which is a light version of hibernation. Rodents such as ground squirrel, deer mice, and some bats are true hibernators. While animals in a state of torpor conserve energy and food during the cold months when food is scarce, unlike true hibernators, they are able to more easily wake up during the winter to search for food. Hibernation is a deeper and longer version of torpor.

 

Brumation, on the other hand, is specific to reptiles and amphibians that enter a state of ‘deep sleep’ where they undergo the same process of inactivity and low body temperature, heart rate, metabolic rate, and respiratory rate drops. The biggest difference between animals that hibernate and animals that brumate is whether or not they consume food beforehand. Hibernating animals need to eat in order to have enough food storage to last them through their hibernation period as their metabolism, while decreased, is still active. Brumating animals stop eating before entering inactivity as their metabolic rate drops so low that they are unable to fully digest their meal until outside temperatures increase.

 

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Learn more about hibernation and torpor (as well as migration) and how certain species of animals stay warm during the cold months by checking out these fun projects!

Additonal Resources

Learn more about the differences between hibernation and brumation by reading this Ask a Naturalist post by Discovery Place Musuem