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Update:November 9, 2018

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Ussurian tube-nosed bats (Murina ussuriensis) in Japan hibernate in snow: the second such evidence on mammals following polar bears


Article title

Evidence for Ussurian tube-nosed bats (Murina ussuriensis) hibernating in snow

Author (affiliation)

Hirofumi Hirakawa(a), Yu Nagasaka(b)

(a) Hokkaido Research Center, FFPRI, Sapporo, Hokkaido, Japan.
(b) Forestry Research Institute, Hokkaido Research Organization, Bibai, Hokkaido, Japan.

Publication Journal

Scientific Reports 8、13 August 2018, DOI:10.1038/s41598-018-30357-1( External link )

Content introduction

More than 1,300 species of bats are distributed widely from the tropics to subarctic regions. Although some species of bats living at high latitudes migrate to milder climates during winter, many species do not migrate. Data regarding where or in which roosts these non-migratory species hibernate are limited. Bats are one of the main constituents of forest ecosystems, but many aspects of their lives are still largely unknown.

The Ussurian tube-nosed bat (Murina ussuriensis; weight: 4–8 g) is a small insectivorous species found in the Kuril Islands, Sakhalin, Primorsky Krai, Korea, and Japan. The individuals of this species have occasionally been found under or near the surface of snow. We collected the details of 22 of these records across Japan and observed additional 37 bats on the surface of snow near Sapporo. The analysis of these data indicated that these bats hibernate in snow. This is the second evidence on hibernation of mammals in snow following that on polar bears (Ursus maritimus).

We hypothesize that in heavy snow areas, some individuals reside under the surface of snow for more than half a year. During this confinement, their body temperature possibly matches the temperature of snow—subfreezing but close to 0°C—and they maintain only faint breathing and heartbeat activities, thus saving metabolic energy.

These bats reside near the bottom of snowpacks and become exposed on the surface of snow during snowmelts in spring. The exposed bats remain still during the daytime; after sunset, they raise their body temperature and fly away, which marks the end of hibernation.

Photo 1: An Ussurian tube-nosed bat flying
Photo 1: An Ussurian tube-nosed bat flying in the forest in summer (provided by the Komagatake/Onuma Forest Environment Conservation Center, Hokkaido Forestry Administration Bureau).


Photo 2: An Ussurian tube-nosed bat exposed

Photo 2: An Ussurian tube-nosed bat exposed on the surface of residual piles of snow during snowmelt in spring.


Photo 3: Thermographic images of an Ussurian tube-nosed bat

Bottom images were captured 66 min after sunset,

Photo 3: Thermographic images of an Ussurian tube-nosed bat as it raises its body temperature after sunset.
Top and bottom images were captured 34 and 66 min after sunset, respectively. The bat took flight a few seconds after the bottom image was captured.