Bone Strength is Maintained After 8 Months of Inactivity in Hibernating Goldenmantled Ground Squirrels, Spermophilus Lateralis

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Journal of Experimental Biology





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Prolonged inactivity leads to disuse atrophy, a loss of muscle and bone mass. Hibernating mammals are inactive for 6-9 months per year but must return to full activity immediately after completing hibernation. This necessity for immediate recovery presents an intriguing conundrum, as many mammals require two to three times the period of inactivity to recover full bone strength. Therefore, if hibernators experience typical levels of bone disuse atrophy during hibernation, there would be inadequate time available to recover during the summer active season. We examined whether there were mechanical consequences as a result of the extended inactivity of hibernation. We dissected femur and tibia bones from squirrels in various stages of the annual hibernation cycle and measured the amount of force required to fracture these bones. Three groups were investigated; summer active animals were captured during the summer and immediately killed, animals in the 1 month detraining group were captured in the summer and killed following a 1-month period of restricted mobility, hibernating animals were killed after 8 months of inactivity. A three-point bend test was employed to measure the force required to break the bones. Apparent flexural strength and apparent flexural modulus (material stiffness) were calculated for femurs. There were no differences between groups for femur fracture force, tibia fracture force, or femur flexural strength. Femur flexural modulus was significantly less for the 1 month detraining group than for the hibernation and summer active groups. Thus, hibernators seem resistant to the deleterious effects of prolonged inactivity during the winter. However, they may be susceptible to immobilization-induced bone loss during the summer.


Bones; Golden-mantled ground squirrel; Hibernation; Spermophilus lateralis


Biomechanics | Biomechanics and Biotransport | Biomedical Engineering and Bioengineering | Mechanical Engineering




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