In the December 2012 issue of the Pennsylvania Game News, I read that reindeer, which are the European version of North America's caribou, have the ability to see very well in ultraviolet range (UV) wavelengths that humans and most animals cannot see.
It was discovered that in the near darkness of the arctic winters, UV light abounds and, in it, reindeer food (lichen) stands out, appearing black against the white snow. This also pertains to the fur of the wolf, the main predator of the reindeer.
The study also found that reindeer are able to ward off snow-blindness, which is caused mostly by overexposure to UV rays. Snow blindness is a painful hazard to humans traveling in the far north.
Researchers are not sure how the reindeer are able to avoid snow-blindness; however, the research will continue, and hopefully, there will be help some day for those traveling in the far north.
By sharing the planet with animals, humans have learned many things from them. Although the list of what we have learned from animals would be long, there still is much more to learn.
A groundhog's survival depends on its having accurate scheduling because, in most cases, its food only is available for four months out of the year. Therefore, the woodchuck must put on extra body fat, which will enable it to survive during and after hibernation.
However, the extra weight cannot be put on too early. With an early weight gain, the woodchuck would be an easier target for predators because the weight compromises the woodchuck's speed and agility.
Toward the end of summer, the woodchuck must put on 3/4-inch of fat to survive during hibernation and the period after leaving its burrow (the end of February) until late April when things green up.
Very little of this fat is used during hibernation because the woodchuck's heart beat drops from 100 times per minute to four times per minute; its body temperature drops from above 90 degrees to a low of 40 degrees and its breathing slows down to once every five minutes.
Scientists are studying the hibernating animals to see if man can go into a form of hibernation, which would be helpful during a serious illness and future space travel.
Although bear are not considered true hibernators, they do go into dens; however, their body temperatures drop only a few degrees. Our medical community is studying the bear to aid humans in aging, those who have osteoporosis, astronauts in space travel and many other problems we face.
After going into its den, a bear does not need to drink or urinate all winter long. While humans can go for quite a long time without food, we need to drink water. If we didn't have water, we would quickly dehydrate due to urination.
However, if we were able to shut down our kidneys, just as the bear does, then our metabolic waste (urea) would pile up in our blood, which would result in poisoning. Urea is how we get rid of nitrogen, which becomes a waste product after proteins and acids are digested.
A bear does not urinate during the winter months and has no ill effects. Could it be that urea does not poison a bear or is it that a bear does not produce urea? The female's urine is recycled back in her body so that she is able to produce milk for her cubs, which are born while the female is in the den.
While bear are denning, they move very little. Humans need to exercise to maintain bone structure and function. This was illustrated during weightlessness experienced in space.
Studies have shown that while in space, an astronaut, on a 17-day space mission, experienced a 3.4 to 13 percent bone mineral loss, depending on the specific bones. Muscle loss decreased at a similar rate, which caused concern for the health of astronauts. The real culprit of osteoporosis and muscle loss is inactivity.
When muscles are deprived of exercise, they become resistant to insulin that normally promotes the absorption of glucose. Blood sugar reaches dangerously high levels whenever we consume products containing sugar, all of which risk the onset of adult diabetes.
A bear in the den for more than three months has very little activity and does not experience any osteoporosis or muscle loss. Bears accomplish feats that, if we knew their secret, could lead to cures for many human ills.
Scientists also are interested in deer antler growth; the opossum, which has built up an immunity to snake bites and rabies; and spider venom to prevent damage from a stroke.
Bower retired after 34 years as a wildlife conservation officer for the state Game Commission. He has published several books about his experiences. Questions and comments may be sent to him at 153 Redington Ave., Troy PA 16947.