Fat tailed dwarf lemurs have a talent unique amongst primates. According to a new study published in PLOS One, they can hibernate, and, given how genetically similar they are to humans, scientists would like to know how. If scientists can work out the trick to hibernation, there would be implications ranging from medicine to possible space travel.
Most people imagine hibernation to simply be prolonged sleep, but it’s much more than that. When lemurs hibernate, their breathing slows to a mere one inhalation every twenty minutes, and their heart rate is a scant four beats per minute, down from 200.
So far, the trouble with replicating what we know about lemur’s hibernation is that they appear to only fall into REM sleep when they hibernate; they don’t get any non-REM sleep at all. Non-REM sleep is essential; typically, animals die without. Yet, the lemurs manage to survive. The next stage of research will be to expand the sample size of lemurs and the period that they’re studied for, and try to account for the missing non-REM sleep. Until then, we’ll just have to put aside our dream of hibernating on the way to Alpha Centuri.