This section is from "Scientific American Supplement Volumes 275, 286, 288, 299, 303, 312, 315, 324, 344 and 358". Also available from Amazon: Scientific American Reference Book.
"Don't black bears sleep through the winter?" questioned the writer of an attendant who was dealing out mid-day rations of bread and milk at the park.
"That's the general impression," was the rejoinder, "but we have never noticed any attempts at hibernation here. Bears are unusually lively during the cold months, and demand their food as regularly as do the lions and other feline animals. I don't know that any observations of value on this question have ever been made on animals in confinement. I have had some experience with outside animals, and a great many go through what is called a winter's sleep; and in warm countries there is what might be called a summer sleep. Bears begin in the fall to look out for a soft nest; and if it's possible for them to eat more at one time than another they do it then, and when the cold weather sets in they are fat and in prime condition. According to some authorities, the fat produces the carbon that in some way tends to induce somnolency. The stomach of a bear at this time becomes empty, and naturally shrivels or draws into a very small space, and is rendered totally useless by a substance called 'tappen' that clogs it and the intestines; this is formed of pine leaves and other material that the animal takes from ants' nest and the trunks of trees in its search after honey. They lie asleep in this condition for about six months, generally snowed in; but you can tell the place, as the heat of the bear, what there is left, keeps an air hole up through the snow. The bear seems to live on its fat, the tappen preventing its too rapid consumption; and if you run across them during this time--even along in March just before they wake up--they are about as fat as when they went in. I have taken a slice of fat from a black bear six inches thick--regular blubber. I remember," continued the man, "one winter I was 'log hauling' in the western part of this State. We had our eyes on a big tree, and one morning when it was about ten degrees below zero I tackled it to warm up. I hammered away for about five hours at it and finally started her, and over she came--slowly at first, and then as if she was going right through. The snow was nearly three feet deep, and as the tree struck it flew up for about twenty feet and half blinded me, and when I came to there was the biggest black bear I ever saw standing along side of me, looking about as mixed as I did. I had lost my ax, and the first move I made she started, and on taking a look I found that she had a nest in the trunk and had probably turned in for the winter. It was about twenty feet from the ground, and was built with moss, leaves, and all kinds of truck, and as warm and as snug as you please--a good place to spend a winter in."
The brown and polar bears have the same habit of lying up for the winter. An Esquimau informed Captain Lyon that in the first of the winter the pregnant bears are always fat and solitary. When a heavy fall of snow sets in the animal seeks some hollow place in which she can lie down, and remains quiet while the snow covers her. Sometimes she will wait until a quantity of snow has fallen and then digs herself a cave; at all events it seems necessary that she should be covered up by the snow. She now goes to sleep and does not wake until the spring sun is pretty high, when she brings forth two cubs. The cave by this time has become much larger by the effect of the animal's warmth and breath, so that the cubs have room enough to move, and they acquire considerable strength by continually sucking. The dam at length becomes so thin and weak that it is with great difficulty she extricates herself, which she does when the sun is powerful enough to throw a strong glare through the snow which roofs the den. Then the family comes out, and will take anything that comes along in the way of food. During the long sleep the temperature of the bear's blood is reduced to almost that of the surrounding air. The power of will over the muscles seems to be suspended, respiration is hardly noticeable, and most of the vital functions are at a complete standstill--the entire body sleeping, as it were. The male grizzly bear never hibernates. The young and the females, however, build nests, one of which measured ten feet high, five feet long, and six feet wide.
Bats are great winter sleepers, and in most of the known caves they can be found during the cold months clinging to the walls and to each other. During hibernation their respiration ceases almost entirely, and only the most careful use of a stethoscope can reveal it. The air that has surrounded numbers of them has been carefully examined and not the slightest evidence found of its having been breathed; and, stranger yet, they can exist in this condition in gas, that, were they awake, would prove instantly fatal. A machine has been invented to examine these and other animals while in this condition. A delicate index records the slightest pulsation, while a thermometer shows the rise and fall of the temperature at every moment during the period; and by an arrangement of the wing, the circulation of the blood is recorded. A more delicate experiment can hardly be imagined, as a strong breath, a sneeze, or a footfall will cause the subject of the experiment to recover enough to respire several times; and the effect of this on the machine can be imagined when it is known that though, while in this condition, they produce no effect upon the oxygen of the air about them, they consume when respiring more than four cubic inches of oxygen an hour.
The common marmot is a great underground sleeper. They build large storehouses, sometimes eight feet in diameter, and from the latter part of September to April they lie in them, and, like the bears, give birth to their young during this period.
The dormouse is a remarkable sleeper. Even in their ordinary sleep they can be taken from the nest and handled without waking them. Toward winter they acquire a great deal of fat, and stow away a vast amount of provision around about their nest, and then go to sleep within; but they rarely awake to use this food unless a very warm period comes around before the regular breaking up of cold weather.