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Word of the Week: Torpor
March 05, 2021 by Haya Aldoori

Welcome to Word of the Week! Stay tuned for a new word each Friday to amp up your nature vocabulary!

Photo by Andrew Yee

Torpor [TAWR-per] (noun): A state of decreased physiological activity in an animal, usually by a reduced body temperature and metabolic rate. Torpor enables animals to survive periods of reduced food availability.

When we think about the different ways that animals survive the winter, hibernation is usually the first thing that comes to mind. But the truth is, not that many animals perform a true hibernation. In fact, many enter a lighter state of sleep called torpor.

Just like hibernation, torpor is a survival tactic used by animals to survive the winter months. It also involves lowering the body temperature, breathing rate, heart rate, and metabolic rate. But unlike hibernation, torpor appears to be an involuntary state that an animal enters into based on the conditions of the surrounding environment. Also unlike hibernation, torpor can last for short periods of time - sometimes just through the night or day depending on the animal’s feeding patterns.

In the Winter, Eastern Chipmunks will go through periods of torpor. Between these periods of torpor, they will wake up and consume part of the food supply that they worked so hard to collect and store from mid-summer to late in the Fall. The first warm days of March are when we typically expect to see chipmunks coming out from their winter sleep space underground. We are happy to share that we noticed some in the last weeks of February!

On your next winter visit to High Park, keep an eye out for Eastern Chipmunks moving around in the forest!

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