Effect of body mass on hibernation strategies of woodchucks (Marmota monax)

Integr Comp Biol. 2014 Sep;54(3):443-51. doi: 10.1093/icb/ict100. Epub 2013 Dec 16.


The benefits of mammalian hibernation have been well documented. However, the physiological and ecological costs of torpor have been emphasized only recently as part of a hibernation-optimization hypothesis. This hypothesis predicts that hibernators with greater availability of energy minimize costs of torpor by less frequent utilization of torpor and by maintaining higher body temperatures (T(b)) during torpor. In order to further examine the relationship between body mass and other parameters of hibernation, we present data, collected over a 12-year period, on the hibernation patterns of free-living woodchucks (Marmota monax) in southeastern Pennsylvania. Body mass was positively correlated with T(b) and negatively correlated with percentage of the heterothermic period spent in torpor. Thus, woodchucks with greater mass exhibited less time in torpor as a proportion of their heterothermic period and at higher T(b) than those with lesser mass. This strategy potentially enhances the physiological and physical ability of woodchucks to defend territories, avoid predation, find mates, and complete the reproductive cycle upon emergence from hibernation. Our results further support the hibernation-optimization hypothesis by demonstrating the relationship between body mass and characteristics of torpor and contributing toward a fuller understanding of this concept.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Animals, Wild
  • Body Weight / physiology*
  • Energy Metabolism / physiology
  • Hibernation / physiology*
  • Marmota / physiology*
  • Pennsylvania