Neature Talk: Alaskan Wilderness
April 13, 2021
Dark, cold, temperatures well into the negatives. The sun has not been seen in almost two months. In a bright and brilliant display of the power of our life giving star, the sun peeks over the horizon, marking the beginning of spring for the Alaskan north.
Alaska is home to hundreds of different species of animal, some large and terrifying, some small and hidden under a blanket of snow. As the sun sets for the final time in the Alaskan north, many animals instinctively become aware that it will be almost 60 days before they can bask in its light again. For some species, a much needed rest time begins. Brown bears in Alaska have been known to hibernate anywhere from five to eight months out of the year.
Contrary to popular belief hibernation does not mean that an animal eats a large meal and then goes to sleep for the rest of winter. Hibernation does involve eating a lot, and therefore creating fat stores in the body to later be broken down during the winter slumber. Bears specifically will lower their internal body temperature by eight to twelve degrees, and become much less active while hibernating. They will, however, still wake up and move around throughout the den they are spending their hibernation in. Mother bears will usually give birth to cubs at some point during their hibernation as well.
Caribou, another species native to the Alaskan north, spend their winter trudging through deep snow and eating dead and dry grasses which are covered in that snow. Caribou, being a ruminate, rely on the warmth created during the digestion of their meals, to keep them warm. Between the warmth produced by their rumen, a thick layer of fat, and a dense fur coat, caribou do not struggle to stay warm even in temperatures approaching -50 degrees fahrenheit.
As humans continue to struggle with issues like worldwide pandemics and devastating wars, it is relieving to look at the animals around us and realize, even when the sun goes down for 60 days, it always comes back up again.