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    Home / Science projects / Hibernation Science Projects
    • Hibernation Science Projects

      Hibernation Science Projects

      Animal Insulation

      Have you ever wondered how animals stay warm in the winter? Lots of animals grow extra fur to help keep their bodies warm, but most animals also put on extra fat during the fall that helps them stay warm all winter long. How does fat help keep them warm? Do this experiment to find out!

      What You Need:

      • Vaseline or shortening
      • two plastic baggies
      • a rubber band
      • a bowl of water with some ice cubes in it
      • a stopwatch
      • a helper

      What You Do:

      1. Put your hand inside one of the plastic bags. Have a helper spread Vaseline or shortening all over the bag to cover your hand. There needs to be a pretty thick layer over all of your hand.
      2. Now have your helper slide the other bag over the Vaseline or shortening, squeezing the air out of both the bags, and tie the bags to your wrist with the rubber band (make sure it isn't too tight; you just want it to keep the bags from falling off).
      3. Stick both of your hands into the bowl of ice water (it's okay if you only have about half of each hand in the water, but make sure the water doesn't go above the rubber band and get into the bags on your covered hand.
      4. Have your helper time how long you can leave each hand in the cold water. Make sure to take each one out as soon as it starts to feel uncomfortable so that you won't damage your skin!

      What Happened:

      The layer of Vaseline or shortening that you surrounded your hand with acted very similar to a layer of fat that animals grow for the winter. It protected your hand from the ice water and you were probably able to keep your covered  hand in the water for longer than you could stand to keep your bare hand in! How did the Vaseline or shortening protect your hand, though? It insulated it from the cold water. This means that it kept the heat that your hand already had from escaping into the water and also blocked the cold temperature of the water from touching your hand as quickly. Your bare hand did not have this extra layer of protection and all the heat from that hand was transferred to the water almost right away. Then it only took a few seconds for the cold from the water to start making your hand feel very cold. Animals grow a layer of fat underneath their skin or fur that helps insulate them from cold weather, just like the layer of Vaseline did for your hand!

      Ways To Keep Warm

      What is the best way to stay warm outside on a cold day? Try these ideas and then decide which one works best! Go outside on a cold day and try each activity. Make sure you are wearing warm enough clothes to protect you from the cold, but you don't need to put on extra clothes to try to keep yourself even warmer than normal - just dress the way you would if you were going to go for a walk or to play outside.

      1. Sit down on the grass and curl up in a ball - hug your knees to your chest and bury your head in your lap. Wrap your arms around your ears and tuck your hands under your knees. Sit there for a minute or two. Which parts of your body are the warmest in this position? Which parts are the coldest? Try doing it again sitting on concrete. Which place was warmer? How do you feel? Are you tired?
      2. Find a spot facing the wind (so that the wind is blowing towards your face) and sit very still for as long as you can. How do you feel? Which parts of your body are the coldest?
      3. Turn around so that you are facing away from the wind (so the wind is blowing on your back, not your face) and sit still again for as long as you can. Now how do you feel? Are you any warmer than when you were facing the wind?
      4. Run around for a whole minute, then stop. Which parts of your body are the warmest? Which parts of your body are the coldest? How do you feel? Are you tired?
      5. Find a place where you will be sheltered from the wind. It could be inside a playhouse or fort, in a group of trees, or behind a bush where most of the wind is blocked. Stand there for a minute or two and think about how you feel compared to the other places you have been. Does it wear you out? Do you feel warm or cold all over or are certain spots on your body colder than others?
      6. With one or two brothers, sisters, or friends, huddle together standing up (kind of like a group hug!). Then sit down and huddle together on the grass like you did in the first activity. Do you feel colder or warmer than when you were by yourself? Do your friends' or siblings' bodies help keep your body warmer? What parts of your body feel the coldest?

      What Happened:

      Which activities kept you the warmest? Which ones made you the coldest? Which ones used the most energy (made you most tired)? Which ones used the least energy (didn't require you to do anything or didn't make you tired)?

      When you sit very still and don't move much, it is harder for your body to keep its natural heat. When you run around or move your muscles, it helps your blood flow through your veins better and keeps you warmer for longer. However, running around or using up a lot of energy will also make you tired faster. Wind also makes you get colder faster because it blows the warm air that is around your body away from you. If you are huddled up you will be warmer than if you are just sitting or standing, because more of your body heat is kept close to you for a longer time (the wind can't blow it away as fast). Now that you know a little bit about body heat, wind, and energy and how they work to keep you warm or make you cold, can you think of the best way for animals to keep warm during the winter? Where should they go to sleep? Should they group together?

      Winter Food

      How do animals find food in the winter? Sometimes it can be pretty hard. Do this activity to find out what it would be like if you had to eat food that was frozen or covered by ice!

      What You Need:

      • ice cube tray
      • pieces of fruit (grapes, berries, or chunks of pineapple work well)
      • water
      • a freezer

      What You Do:

      1. Put a chunk of fruit in each cube of the ice cube tray.
      2. Notice how the fruit smells. Is it easy to smell? Does it smell like something you would like to eat?
      3. Fill the tray with water and put it in the freezer. You will need to leave it in the freezer for several hours until the water has frozen solid.
      4. Take the cubes out of the tray and put them on a plate.
      5. Smell the ice cubes. Can you smell the fruit? How does it smell compared with how it smelled before you froze it?
      6. Try to eat the fruit out of the ice cubes. Is it hard to get to the fruit? (Be careful not to hurt your teeth by trying to chew the ice.)

      What Happened:

      Before you froze the fruit, you could probably smell it without trying very hard. After you covered the fruit with water and froze it, it was much harder to smell the fruit. That is because the water surrounded the fruit and then froze, which trapped the scent inside the ice. It also sort of watered down the smell of the fruit, making it harder for you to smell. The same thing happens to food in the wild after it freezes or when snow and ice cover the ground, branches, and berries. Snow makes it hard to animals to see their food and ice makes it hard for them to smell it and eat it. This is one of the reasons that a lot of animals collect food in the fall and store it someplace dry to eat during the winter when food will be harder to find! Because of the cold weather, there is also less food available, even for the animals that could find it. That is because most plants lose their leaves and stop producing fruit and go dormantso that they can also survive the winter!

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