Maximizing survivorship in cold: Thermogenic profiles of non-hibernating mammals

Joseph F. Merritt, David A. Zegers

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Winter-active small mammals residing in seasonal environments employ many different behavioral, anatomical and physiological mechanisms to cope with cold. Herein we review research on survival mechanisms in cold employed by small mammals with emphasis on the families Soricidae, Muridae and Sciuridae. The focus of this review is on research delineating the role of seasonal changes in resting metabolic rate (RMR), nonshivering thermogenesis (NST), body mass, and communal nesting in enhancing winter survivorship of six species of small mammals (masked shrew Sorex cinereus, short-tailed shrew Blarina brevicauda, southern red-backed vole Clethrionomys gapperi, white-footed mouse Peromyscus leucopus, deer mouse P. maniculatus, and southern flying squirrel Glaucomys volans) residing in the Appalachian Mountains of Pennsylvania, USA. Each species shows good over-winter survivorship but exhibits a different suite of mechanisms to maximize survival in cold. B. brevicauda, S. cinereus, and G. volans show slight increases in RMR during winter, whereas Peromyscus and C. gapperi exhibit decreased RMR overwinter. All six species experience elevated NST in winter. The comparatively low RMR and NST of G. volans during winter was attributable to a decreased energy expenditure due to a larger body mass, coupled with communal nesting in cavities of trees that provided insulation from low ambient temperatures. Squirrels nesting singly experienced a longer period of elevated NST in winter and higher mean NST year-round than did squirrels nesting communally. Energy conservation in the form of growth retardation in winter was exhibited by C. gapperi and S. cinereus but not the other species.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)221-234
Number of pages14
JournalActa Theriologica
Issue numberSUPPL. 1
StatePublished - 2002


  • Blarina brevicauda
  • Brown adipose tissue
  • Clethrionomys gapperi
  • Glaucomys volans
  • Nonshivering thermogenesis
  • Peromyscus leucopus
  • Peromyscus maniculatus
  • Resting metabolic rate
  • Social thermoregulation
  • Sorex cinereus

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology


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