Scientists Discover That Shrews Shrink Their Heads in Winter

Nature is full of amazing animal adaptations. There are lizards who change color to blend in with their surroundings. There are multiple animals who can sleep through an entire winter without eating anything. And there are even fish that come equipped with built-in flashlights. And now, scientists with the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Germany have discovered a new adaptation which is just as interesting as those already mentioned.

The common shrew, which is a tiny insect-eating mammal that lives in parts of Europe and Asia, actually shrinks its skull and body as winter approaches. Then, when spring starts to arrive, it regrows itself.

shrewsunited.weebly.com

This phenomenon has long been suspected, but this is the first study to finally prove that the phenomenon occurs. After catching, measuring, and taking X-rays of a number of wild shrews, researchers on this study found that, on average, shrews shrink their braincases by 15% when the weather gets colder. Some shrews’ brain size shrunk by up to 30%. Body mass also decreased significantly.

When spring arrives, the shrews regrow their braincases by an average of 9%, which means they don’t return to their original size. Since shrews only live a little longer than a year, they only go through this process once, and they never re-attain their previous size.

But what purpose does this shrinking serve?

Shrews don’t hibernate or migrate, so they must do something to deal with the decrease in their food supply in the colder months. Winter is a period of extreme food scarcity for these little animals, and the reduction in body mass reduces calorie requirements in them. They have high metabolisms and must constantly eat to maintain their weight. By reducing this weight, they don’t have to eat as much when there is little food available.

The brain is one of the body’s most energy-expensive organs, meaning it takes a lot of calories to keep it running. So, by reducing their brain size, the shrews are again reducing their need for food during the harsh winter months.

Now scientists know that the shrinking process definitely occurs, but they still aren’t sure how it happens. One theory is that the collagen that makes up the cranial sutures is reabsorbed by the body. More research will need to be done to figure out this remaining mystery.

Next Article
ADVERTISEMENT
  • New Exoplanet May Be Able to Support New Life

    In most recent news, a team of Scientists just announced a new, epic discovery. What is it? It’s a potentially habitable exoplanet about the size of Earth. It’s said to be orbiting a dim dwarf star around eleven light years away. The name of this new exoplanet has been named Ross 128b after the red...

    Read More
  • The Plague That Caused People to Dance Themselves to Death

    On an otherwise unremarkable July day in early 16th century Strasbourg (now in France), a woman known as Frau Troffea ran into the street and began dancing. There was no music being played, and it wasn’t a holiday or day of celebration, yet, for reasons unknown, she felt compelled to dance. She continued her solo...

    Read More
  • The Plastic-Eating Caterpillar That Could Help Save the Planet

    An amateur Spanish beekeeper recently made a discovery that could have a major impact in our planet’s fight against pollution and global warming. While tending to her beehives, she removed some wax worms from them, since they are pests that are parasitic towards bee colonies. To get rid of them, she put them in an...

    Read More
  • This Town Has Been on Fire for More Than 50 Years

    The borough of Centralia is located in Columbia County, Pennsylvania. In the late 1800s it was a thriving anthracite coal mining town with a population of close to 3,000, but as of 2013 the population is no more than seven. The diminished population is the result of an underground coal...

    Read More
  • Strange Face in the MRI Machine

    Being in charge of brain scans for a major research lab can be quite challenging. It’s no lie that you get to witness a lot of strange and interesting findings. A man with the name of Ben Inglis manages the magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) facility at The University of California, Berkeley Brain Imaging Center. He...

    Read More
  • The World’s Most Glamorous Train

    The Orient Express has been noted as being the world’s most glamorous train, but how did it get that title?  Well, the story of The Orient Express takes off in the 1860’s when the concept of globetrotting tourism was still fairly new.  For years, the ultra-rich had been the only people that could afford to...

    Read More
  • The Chapel of Bones

    This interesting chapel; located in Evora, Portugal; called the Capela dos Ossos.  This place has definitely been receiving some attention on social media.  This chapel is a smaller portion of a larger, bone free church compound.  The name of that larger church complex is Igreja de Sao Francisco.  Inside this amazing bone chapel, it’s lined...

    Read More
  • The Earliest Evidence of Wine Making

    This new find definitely deserves a grand toast. Scientists have just recently discovered what is now to be considered the oldest known winemaking site on record. Archaeologists have just recently discovered ceramic jars which have shown evidence of winemaking during an excavation of two Neolithic sites called Gadachrili Gora and Shulaveris Gora. These sites are...

    Read More