"Terminal burrowing behaviour"--a phenomenon of lethal hypothermia

Int J Legal Med. 1995;107(5):250-6. doi: 10.1007/BF01245483.


Between 1978 and 1994, 69 cases of death due to lethal hypothermia were examined in our Institute. In addition to the common findings associated with hypothermia we especially wanted to examine the so-called paradox reaction which refers to the undressing of persons in a state of severe (lethal) hypothermia. This is obviously the result of a peripheral vasodilatation effecting a feeling of warmth. In our material this paradoxical undressing occurred in 25% of the cases and nearly all exhibited an additional phenomenon which has not yet been described in the literature. Nearly all bodies with partial or complete disrobement were found in a position which indicated a final mechanism of protection i.e. under a bed, behind a wardrobe, in a shelf etc.. This is obviously an autonomous process of the brain stem, which is triggered in the final state of hypothermia and produces a primitive and burrowing-like behaviour of protection, as seen in (hibernating) animals. This phenomenon, which we refer to as "terminal burrowing behaviour", occurred predominantly with slow decreases in temperature and moderately cold conditions.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Animals
  • Body Temperature Regulation / physiology
  • Brain Stem / pathology
  • Brain Stem / physiopathology
  • Cause of Death
  • Clothing*
  • Drug Overdose / pathology
  • Drug Overdose / physiopathology
  • Female
  • Hibernation / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Hypothermia / pathology
  • Hypothermia / physiopathology*
  • Locomotion / physiology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Social Environment*
  • Vasodilation / physiology*