Chow Time: Autumn and the Munchies

January 29, 2016
Squirrels Getting Ready

It’s cute when squirrels develop chubby little waists in preparation for hibernation in winter.


Days are getting shorter. Temperatures are getting cooler. Leaves are falling. And appetites are growing.

You see squirrels gathering nuts and expanding their little gray waistlines. Bears and badgers are putting on the pounds preparing for winter hibernation. Admit it – even you probably feel it as you lose your zest for summer salads and begin to lust for a big slab of pumpkin pie.

This autumn surge in appetites is vital for the survival of many animals. Unable to migrate to warmer climates, a large number of animals survive by hibernating through the lean months of winter. They enter a state of “suspended animation.” Their breathing and heart rates slows − some reptiles stop breathing entirely. The animal’s body temperature drops, in some cases even below freezing. They stop eating and in many cases stop excreting. (Spring must be such a relief!) This state can last for months and if the animal hasn’t stored up enough body fat, it is not going to survive. Therefore, fall is the season to pig out and store up body fat.

It’s not quite as cute when you meet a hungry bear that also needs to gain weight to survive winter. SOURCE: Wikipedia

During hibernation, animals may lose as much as half their body weight, so autumn feeding is incredibly important. Indeed, some animals, like squirrels, not only have to gain weight, store mid-winter snacks. Bears, particularly pregnant females that will nurse and sleepily care for their cubs during winter, are notorious for their short tempers and huge appetites during fall. This year, for example, bear attacks have increased by 64%, as drought has made autumn scavenging more difficult.

Unfortunately, humans don’t have the excuse of hibernation to explain increased appetites. However, scientific studies as far back as a 1991 University of Georgia report show that subjects consumed about 200 more calories a day beginning in the fall when the days grow darker. When combined with richer holiday foods and increased confinement indoors, it’s tempting to grow as chubby as a chipmunk.

Scientific studies suggest that as the days grow shorter, people’s appetites grow larger. SOURCE: The Old Farmer's Almanac for Kids

So as you reach for that piece of pumpkin pie or candy apple, blame the season. You have to prepare for your long winter nap!

About This Blog

The column, “Weather Whispers,” is authored by James Garriss and Evelyn Browning Garriss, historical climatologists and weather addicts!  Whether you enjoy the science of weather or the fascinating folklore or just fun weather phenomena, it’s probably covered by these weather watchers!