By: Pat Coate
While hiking in Allegany State Park in early January we came across some bear tracks. In most winters the black bears of the park would be hibernating in their dens during January. But during warm spells like we had been experiencing, the bears may leave their dens to forage for food.
Hibernation* is pretty amazing – the bears don’t eat, drink or excrete. Their body produces food and water from breaking down fat. They don’t lose muscle mass. Their heart rate drops, often to less than 10 beats per minute, and their body temperature stays high due to their thick fur and high level of body fat. If their body temperature does start to fall, a shiver reflex is triggered which warms them up. Bears don’t hibernate to escape the cold, but as a method to cope with food scarcity.
*Technically bears don’t hibernate, it is more like an extended deep sleep from which they may occasionally awaken as evidenced by these tracks.