Academic journal article Science Scope

Freezing for Survival

Academic journal article Science Scope

Freezing for Survival

Article excerpt

Classic hibernation in the wild conjures images of furry bears, but other animals are not so lucky to have immense fat stores or fur to protect them from the elements. Frogs that live at northern latitudes have neither of these but must find ways to survive the harsh winter season. Their solution? Freezing... but not to death.

Wood frogs (Lithobates sylvaticus) freeze upward of 60% of their bodies during the winter months. "For all intents and purposes, they are dead," said Don Larson, a PhD student at the University of Alaska Fairbanks who is interested in how frogs in some of the harshest conditions of Alaska alter their physiology to survive the long and extremely cold winters. Unlike previous studies, Larson used standard lab-based experiments but also included measurements to track a population in the wild.

Beginning in October, Larson tracked frogs throughout the harsh winter season. He observed that prior to freezing for the entire season, frogs underwent 10-15 cycles of freezing and then thawing. Thinking that such freeze/thaw cycles may be the key to the frogs' survival through the winter season, Larson wanted to mimic these natural conditions back in the lab. To do this, he conducted a lab experiment where frogs were left unfrozen, frozen directly, or frozen through a freeze/thaw cycle.

In the wild, all frogs survived throughout the long winter, during which temperatures ranged from -9[degrees]C to -18[degrees]C, a longer and colder period than previously observed with wood frogs. …

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