The purpose of this study was to determine whether hibernating European hamsters Cricetus cricetus, L., 1758 stay in their burrows all winter or if they occasionally spent time above ground. If ‘time (spent) above ground’ (TAG) occurred regularly throughout hibernation, the second objective of this work was to categorize and quantify the patterns of TAG during winter. For this purpose, 11 European hamsters were individually housed in wire mesh cages that were buried in the ground of an outdoor enclosure. Each cage was filled with soil up to ground level allowing the animals to construct their own burrows within the cages. Antennae in the bottom and top of the cage were calibrated to receive signals only when the hamsters were in their burrows or above the ground, respectively. This method enabled continuous recordings of the animal's TAG and provided ecologically meaningful results as the animals were housed in a way that closely resembled their natural habitat. About half of the hamsters stayed continuously below ground. Of these hamsters, almost all showed a dense pattern of episodes of reduced body temperature separated by only brief periods of normothermia. In contrast, the other half of the animals moved either episodically or even regularly above ground. For all of these hamsters, TAG was significantly reduced as compared to normothermic values. One hamster did not show any hibernation but did have a significantly reduced normothermic body temperature and did not leave its burrow for periods of up to 3 weeks.
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