Professor Peter Teglberg Madsen

Detecting spring after a long winter: coma or slow vigilance in cold, hypoxic turtles?

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Many freshwater turtle species can spend the winter submerged in ice-covered lakes by lowering their metabolism, and it has been proposed that such severe metabolic depression render these turtles comatose. This raises the question of how they can detect the arrival of spring and respond in a sensible way to sensory information during hibernation. Using evoked potentials from cold or hypoxic turtles exposed to vibration and light, we show that hibernating turtles maintain neural responsiveness to light stimuli during prolonged hypoxia. Furthermore, turtles held under hibernation conditions for 14 days increase their activity when exposed to light or elevated temperatures, but not to vibration or increased oxygen. It is concluded that hibernating turtles are not comatose, but remain vigilant during over-wintering in cold hypoxia, allowing them to respond to the coming of spring and to adjust their behaviour to specific sensory inputs.

Original languageEnglish
Article number20130602
JournalBiology Letters
Number of pages5
Publication statusPublished - 23 Dec 2013
Externally publishedYes

    Research areas

  • freshwater turtles, responsiveness, coma, evoked potential, hibernation, hypoxia, ANOXIA-TOLERANT VERTEBRATES, FRESH-WATER TURTLE, BRAIN, STRATEGIES, RESPONSES, OXYGEN

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