Note to Editors: Media are welcome to arrange visits to biology Professor Greg Florant's hibernation chamber at Colorado State. About 20 marmots, relatives of the groundhog, are hibernating in the chamber as part of an extensive research project. The dark chamber has a temperature of about 5 degrees and mimics conditions hibernating animals would find in the wild. To arrange a visit, call Florant at (970) 491-7627 before Groundhog Day Feb. 2.
FORT COLLINS--Whether Punxsutawney Phil chooses six more weeks of winter hibernation on Groundhog Day has more to do with the makeup of fatty acids in his body than being scared by his own shadow.
Colorado State University biology Professor Greg Florant, an international expert on hibernating animals, recently discovered that high amounts of linolenic acid can actually hinder hibernation in marmots, a cousin of the groundhog. Excessive amounts of this long-chain polyunsatured fatty acid also can cause the animals to be more active--even continue to eat--at a time they are supposed to enjoy a long winter's nap.
Florant said that linolenic acid (also called 18:3 and n-3) and linoleic acid (also known as 18:2 and n-6) have been identified in other hibernating animals as key influences on successful hibernation. But Florant's recent work with graduate student Vanessa Hill offers the first evidence that high levels of linolenic acid may inhibit successful hibernation, while balanced combinations of the two acids provide a restful sleep.
"When Punxsutawney Phil is pulled from his burrow on Groundhog Day, it may actually be the ratio of these fatty acids that determine whether he'll come out of hibernation early," Florant said. "Through our research, we now know these fatty acids play a very important role in successful hibernation, particularly if high levels of linolenic acid are present."