How are animals able to hibernate for so long and why can’t we do it?


How are animals able to hibernate for so long and why can’t we do it?

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There are three similar processes which are often confused due to their similarities hibernation, dormancy and aestivation. Animals take measures to reduce heat loss during hibernation and by lowering the metabolic rate and respiration they can survive long periods without eating or drinking.

Technically, we probably have some of the genes that are used in the process from our early mammal ancestors, and they are deactivated (just like tails, fur, and any other number of deactivated gene sets we may still have). That’s the literal reason why we can’t. There don’t seem to be any triggers that put us into any form of hibernation, brumor, torpor, or any of the other techniques for reducing metabolism during bad times.

It’s even possible that (but unknown if) medical issues like Seasonal Affective Disorder might be related to those remnant seasonal genes of some ancestor species.

As for *why* humans don’t have the capacity? I don’t think any primates hibernate (or the other processes). Perhaps it was detrimental because the process could accidentally get triggered by things like weather changes or lack of daily UV light. I study groundhogs, and an adult groundhog’s most likely cause of death is starving during winter torpor.

It’s no magic bullet. You have to really prepare for that sort of thing, and you might not make it out the other side. Accidentally triggering the instinct could certainly be a death sentence for something like a primate.