Specialized protein helps these ground squirrels resist the cold | Science News

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Specialized protein helps these ground squirrels resist the cold

Being less sensitive to low temperatures may help the animals slip into hibernation

By
12:07pm, December 19, 2017
thirteen-lined ground squirrel

GROUNDED  When thirteen-lined ground squirrels hibernate, they lower their core body temperature to just a few degrees above freezing. And when awake, new research shows, the critters have a decreased sensitivity to cold compared with nonhibernating kin.

The hardy souls who manage to push shorts season into December might feel some kinship with the thirteen-lined ground squirrel.

The critter hibernates all winter, but even when awake, it’s less sensitive to cold than its nonhibernating relatives, a new study finds. That cold tolerance is linked to changes in a specific cold-sensing protein in the sensory nerve cells of the ground squirrels and another hibernator, the Syrian hamster, researchers report in the Dec. 19 Cell Reports. The altered protein may be an adaptation that helps the animals drift into hibernation.

In experiments, mice, which don’t hibernate, strongly preferred to hang out on a hot plate that was 30° Celsius versus one that was cooler. Syrian hamsters (Mesocricetus auratus) and the ground squirrels (Ictidomys tridecemlineatus), however, didn’t seem to notice the chill until

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