Ground squirrels are able to withstand extremely cold temperatures by lowering their body temperature below freezing. This process, known as cryobiosis, helps them to avoid injury or death from exposure to the cold.
When the temperature drops, ground squirrels enter a state of torpor in which their body temperature and metabolic rate decrease. This allows them to survive on very little food and water.
During periods of extreme cold, ground squirrels may lower their body temperature to as low as -20 degrees Celsius.
This is an impressive feat, considering that the average human body temperature is only 37 degrees Celsius.
Ground squirrels are not the only animals that can lower their body temperature to survive in cold conditions. Other examples include wood frogs, Arctic ground squirrels, and some species of bats.
While cryobiosis helps animals to survive in cold environments, it also has its drawbacks. For example, animals that enter a state of torpor are more vulnerable to predators. They are also less able to thermoregulate, which can lead to dehydration and hypothermia.
Despite the risks, cryobiosis is an important adaptation that allows many animals to survive in cold environments. So the next time you see a ground squirrel huddled up in the snow, remember that it’s not just trying to stay warm—it’s trying to stay alive.