This northern long-eared bat in Illinois is affected by white-nose syndrome.
Happy vernal equinox! The arrival of spring brings warmer weather, the greening of trees, and the blooming of flowers. It puts us in mind of animals, too -- the ones that have been off taking long naps and are now ready to spring forward. Nature's clock being imperfect, some might technically emerge before spring, but we're not worried about splitting hairs. What matters is, when the weather warms up, these critters are ready for what's next. First up, raccoons. Depending on the climate where they live, many raccoons will spend winter months hiding out in tree or log hollows, where they fall into a deep sleep. They'll eat as much as they can before they check out, as they lose up to half their weight by the time warmer weather arrives.Most Amazing Animal Friendships: Photos
Groundhogs will hibernate no matter the temperature of its surroundings or the state of the food supply. They dig their burrows beneath the frost line, making sure to fatten up as much as possible before checking in for as long as five to six months between October and March or April.It's Groundhog Day (Again): Photos
Box turtles in colder regions prep for winter by digging chambers well below ground and waiting it out for warmer days.How Turtles Got Their Shells
Not all hedgehogs hibernate -- it will depend on the temperature where they live and the food supply -- but many will burrow into their nests and then dial their body temperature way down for winter. They're not really asleep so much as in a state of torpor, living off their fat stores from late fall to early spring.VIDEO: Why These Cute Animals Are Illegal to Own
Ladybugs will gobble up lots of pollen and aphids, find a place to wait out the winter -- in clumps together on a tree, under rocks, or in buildings, for example -- and go into a dormant state called diapause until the mercury heats up.72,000 Ladybugs Released in Mall of America
Some species of snail will cover themselves in mucus to keep from drying out, while they hibernate through colder months.Snails Taking it Slow and Easy: Photos
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Bats have been known to take a hibernation breather for up to six months in a cave.VIDEO: The Amazing Link Between Bats and Dolphins
While male and worker bumblebees die off at the end of summer, the queen bee, true to her station, lives on -- hibernating underground for about six months. Come warmer weather, she'll pop up from her hidey hole and look for a good spot for the summer nest.Bumblebees Can Fly Higher Than Mount Everest
Some rattlesnake species will switch off the lights and hibernate in the winter. Up to 1,000 snakes can end up sharing underground hibernating dens. They'll even share their winter homes with animals such as turtles, small mammals, and other species of snake.Top 12 Most Amazing Snakes
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The black bear is an expert hibernator that can fine-tune its metabolism to get through the winter. It can go months without eating, drinking, peeing or pooping. Come October or November, it heads for a den in a tree hollow or cave, or beneath rocks or logs. Its heart rate will slow to about 8 beats per minute. Some three to five months later, it will emerge.Polar Bear Mom Fights Off Adult Male: Photos
Could a bacteria that grows naturally on the skin of some bats become a valuable weapon against a deadly fungus that continues to decimate bat populations?
That's the hope springing from a paper published April 8 in the journal PLOS ONE by researchers from the University of California, Santa Cruz.
The researchers, led by graduate student Joseph Hoyt, tested bacteria from the skin of four bat species to see to what degree they could suppress white-nose syndrome, a death-dealing fungus first seen in New York State in 2006 that has wiped out more than 90 percent of bat populations in some regions.
The scientists reported that six of the bacteria they isolated were able to significantly inhibit the growth of the fungus in petri dishes, while two were particularly successful at suppressing it for more than 35 days.
"What's promising is that the bacteria that can inhibit the fungus naturally occur on the skin of bats," said Hoyt in a press release. "These bacteria may just be at too low a level to have an effect on the disease, but augmenting them to higher abundances may provide a beneficial effect."
The fungus behind white-nose syndrome, Pseudogymnoascus destructans, attacks a bat's nose, ears, and wings while it hibernates, when the animal's temperature is at its lowest.
Even though white-nose syndrome can affect nearly every bat in a hibernating colony, previous work by study co-author Marm Kilpatrick has shown that if bats can get through the winter they can clear the infection when they warm up and emerge from hibernation.
Hoyt and his team hope a spray concocted from the white-nose-fighting bacteria could be applied to bats as they hibernate. If the substance could keep the fungus at bay long enough to get the bats through the winter, then the animals' chances for survival increase.
"The potential for a treatment is exciting, because this disease is raging across the country," said Kilpatrick, who cited the northern long-eared bat, which may be headed for extinction because of white-nose syndrome. "Everywhere the disease has been for a couple of years, this bat is gone. We don't have any tools right now to protect this species."
Help may be on the way, however.
The researchers have left the petri dishes behind and are now experimenting with living subjects. "We are analyzing data from tests on live bats now, and if the results are positive, the next step would be a small field trial," said Hoyt.