The Supercool Squirrel (The Arctic Ground Squirrel)

Do you know the art of successful hibernation? We Arctic ground squirrels do. We are amazing hibernators. This doesn’t mean that we do nothing but sleep, but we have a special ability that I want to tell you about.

Our Designer has given us the amazing ability to cool our bodies below freezing temperatures and still survive. We do this by a process called super cooling. Don’t ask me to explain how it works-I don’t know. I only know that it is our means of survival in the extreme Arctic conditions. At temperatures that would cause other animals’ blood to freeze in their veins, ours just keeps right on flowing.

Now I’ve heard that your scientists make comments like “the ground squirrels have developed a unique mechanism that allows their body fluids to become supercooled-to fall below the freezing point” and not freeze! Unbelievable? Yes, it is unbelievable, because we ground squirrels had nothing to do with “developing” the process! We didn’t do this on our own, anymore than you control how tall you grow, or the color of your eyes. All credit for the wonderful process goes to our great Designer, God Almighty, who planned the process and implemented it. And all before we came along.

You see, our Creator made us to survive in the extreme environment of the Arctic. That’s why we are equipped to tolerate those intolerable temperatures, like a minus 50 degrees Fahrenheit.

The Arctic is our home, year around, and we are very content. But we have to prepare for those long winter days when there is no food to be found.

How do we do it? We eat very intensely all summer long. Then from about the third week in July to the second week in August, we have an insatiable hunger. Seeds, mushrooms, berries, whatever we can find, we eat non-stop! During this time many of us actually double our body weight, in preparation for our long sleep. Then, in mid-August, we tuck into our two-foot deep burrows for an 8-month snooze.

What is so unusual about all this? Only this: that we have an ability your scientists would like very much to understand. If they could understand how we hibernate, they think they might be able to duplicate the process and make some great advances in the area of organ transplants, and save many more lives. But perhaps our Creator doesn’t want your scientists to learn that secret. Perhaps He keeps His secrets for a reason. I can’t speculate.

What can I tell you about our hibernation process? Our patterns, I’m told, break all the rules. If you should cool your body below 32 degrees Fahrenheit, you would die by cardiac arrest-yes, you’d have a heart attack. Your body cells would break open and leak, causing a deadly inundation of injurious ions.

But to us ground squirrels, below freezing temperatures inside our bodies are just a normal part of winter and nothing to worry about. We also build our winter burrows very cozy, with grasses and block the entrance with dirt. Even so, winter temperatures inside our burrows still fall well below zero degrees Fahrenheit.

And when we go into hibernation, our body temperature drops from the standard 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit to about 26.4 degrees Fahrenheit. Most mammals, including people, would be frozen solid at that temperature! But our blood keeps circulating, our heart keeps beating. There are no ice crystals in our body fluids, and no damage to our cell structures. We’re just fine!

The dark months are long, and we occasionally get tired of our dormancy. So once in every two weeks or so, we raise our temperature to the standard 98.6 (it takes about four hours) and go out for a little fresh air. Then back into hibernation.

How is it all possible? We can only thank our wonderful Creator and Designer, who made the earth and all things that are in it (Neh. 9:6).

Hibernate: (1) to pass the winter in a torpid or resting state (2) to become inactive or dormant (Merriam Webster Dictionary)

Ground Squirrels really hibernate! A comparison of the physiological rates of bears and ground squirrels in Denail National Park:

  Summer Heart Rate Hibernating Heart Rate
Black Bear 60 beats per minute 12 beats per minute
Ground Squirrel 200 to 300 beats per minute 3 beats per minute
  Summer Respiratory Rate Hibernating Respiratory Rate
Black Bear 30 breaths per minute 2 breaths per minute
Ground Squirrel 260 breaths per minute holds breath 30 minutes, takes 10-15 breaths, holds breath again
  Summer Body Temperature Hibernating Body Temperature
Black Bear 98.6 f (37 c) 86 f (30 c)
Ground Squirrel 98.6 f (37 c) 28.4 f (-2 c)