Spanky showed us something about how a male ends hibernation that we didn’t see with females. Without cubs to slow him down, he is able to transition between hibernation and full metabolism by being active and then sleeping far longer than bears do at full metabolism which begins with green-up in May and ends when food disappears in fall. The annual cycle of activity of bears varies across North America and is genetically set to fit the annual cycle of plant growth and fruiting. In parts of North America where there is the possibility of food in winter, bears have the flexibility to take advantage of winter food. In this part of North America, bears do not respond to winter food. Where they are fed, their annual cycle of activity is not swayed. They hibernate on schedule and are swayed at most by a couple weeks.
A person who has watched bears that hibernated under buildings at the Vince Shute Wildlife Sanctuary has seen males behave like Spanky is doing. When conditions were right, the males left their dens for several hours or for up to 3 days like Spanky did and then came back to catch up on their rest.
We’ll be learning from the trail cams what Spanky does over the next days or weeks. I think of the second week of May as the beginning of spring green-up when food suddenly sprouts from the forest floor and is available everywhere. Meanwhile, we and the den cam watchers will be poring over the video for patterns to publish. Whenever something new is examined in detail, we learn something new but this time I goofed up and made things more difficult by prematurely pulling the den cam when he was gone for a couple days. I acted too soon. We’ll get the basics from the trail cams, wishing all the time that we still had the den cam going so everyone could learn along with us.
I’m thankful for what we did accomplish and for the den cam watchers that stepped forward from many corners of the world to make and continue to make this a success. I'm also thankful that they are working so hard on making sure all the archives have been recorded.
Thank you for all you do.
Lynn Rogers, Biologist, Wildlife Research Institute and North American Bear Center