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Torpor is a state of decreased physiological activity in an animal, usually by a reduced body temperature and metabolic rate. Torpor enables animals to survive periods of reduced food availability. A torpor bout can refer to the period of time a hibernator spends at low body temperature, lasting days to weeks, or it can refer to a period of low body temperature and metabolism lasting less than 24 hours, as in "daily torpor".
Animals that undergo daily torpor include birds (even tiny hummingbirds, notably Cypselomorphae) and some mammals, including many marsupial species, rodent species (such as mice), and bats. During the active part of their day, such animals maintain normal body temperature and activity levels, but their metabolic rate and body temperature drops during a portion of the day (usually night) to conserve energy. Torpor is often used to help animals survive during periods of colder temperatures, as it allows them to save the energy that would normally be used to maintain a high body temperature.
Some animals seasonally go into long periods of inactivity, with reduced body temperature and metabolism, made up of multiple bouts of torpor. This is known as hibernation if it occurs during winter or aestivation if it occurs during the summer. Daily torpor, on the other hand, is not seasonally dependent and can be an important part of energy conservation at any time of year.
Torpor is a well controlled thermoregulatory process and not, as previously thought, the result of switching off thermoregulation. Marsupial torpor differs from non-marsupial mammalian (Eutherial) torpor in the characteristics of arousal. Eutherial arousal relies on a heat-producing brown adipose tissue as a mechanism to accelerate rewarming. The mechanism of marsupial arousal is unknown, but appears not to rely on brown adipose tissue.
NASA Deep Sleep Option for Mars
In October 2014 NASA announced they would research a way to dramatically cut the cost of a human expedition to Mars by putting the crew in extended torpor for 90 to 180 days. Traveling while hibernating would reduce astronauts’ metabolic functions and minimize requirements for life support during multi-year missions.
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- Dawson, T.J., et al. (eds.); Fauna of Australia Vol. 1b – Mammalia; 17. Morphology and Physiology of the Metatheria; pp. 102, p. 30
- http://news.discovery.com/space/nasa-eyes-crew-deep-sleep-option-for-mission-to-mars-141003.htm NASA Eyes Crew Deep Sleep Option for Mars Mission