Embryonic diapause

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Embryonic diapause (from late 19th century English: dia- ‘through’ + pause- 'delay') (aka delayed implantation) is a reproductive strategy used by several animal species across a number of kingdoms, including approximately 130 different mammals.[1] In mammalian embryonic diapause, the embryonic blastocyst does not immediately implant in the uterus after sexual reproduction has created the zygote, but rather remains in a state of dormancy. Little to no development takes place while the embryo remains unattached to the uterine wall. As a result, the normal gestation period is extended for a species-specific time.[2][3] While much of the molecular regulation involved in activating dormant blastocysts has been characterized, little is still known about entry into diapause, and the conditions which enable a blastocyst to remain dormant.

Some mammals that undergo embryonic diapause include rodents, bears, armadillos, mustelids (e.g. weasels and badgers), and marsupials (e.g. kangaroos). Some groups only have one species that undergoes embryonic diapause, such as the roe deer in the order Artiodactyla.[3]


Mammals may undergo diapause to avoid the risk to their own lives during unfavourable and/or environmental conditions. Embryonic diapause is used to delay the birth of offspring until favorable metabolic and/or environmental conditions are available. Reproduction has a large energy cost and it is beneficial to have ideal conditions (e.g. available food, mild weather, previous offspring weaned) to ensure the offspring survives before giving birth.[4][5]


Two types of mammalian embryonic diapause have been identified.

Facultative diapause[edit]

Facultative diapause is also known as lactational delayed implantation due to its regulation via lactation. If a female copulates while still lactating for a previous litter, the suckling stimulus will cause the embryos to enter into diapause. This is known to occur in some rodents, insectivores and marsupials.[6]

Obligate diapause[edit]

Obligate diapause is also known as seasonal delayed implantation and is a mechanism that allows mammals to time the birth of their offspring for favorable environmental conditions. This mechanism occurs as a regular part of the reproductive cycle in mammals such as armadillos, all species of pinniped, many mustelids, all ursids, one species of fruit bat, and the roe deer.[6][7][8]


  1. ^ Fenelon, Jane C.; Banerjee, Arnab; Murphy, Bruce D. (2014). "Embryonic diapause: development on hold". The International Journal of Developmental Biology. 58 (2–4): 163–174. doi:10.1387/ijdb.140074bm. ISSN 1696-3547. PMID 25023682.
  2. ^ Desmarais, J.A.; V. Bordignon; F.L. Lopes; L.C. Smith; B.D. Murph (2004). "The escape of the mink embryo from obligate diapause". Biology of Reproduction. 70 (3): 662–670. doi:10.1095/biolreprod.103.023572. PMID 14585805. Retrieved 2008-04-05.
  3. ^ a b Renfree, M.B.; B. Shaw (2000). "Diapause". Annual Review of Physiology. 62: 353–375. doi:10.1146/annurev.physiol.62.1.353. PMID 10845095.
  4. ^ "Class Mammalia". University of Michigan Museum of Zoology: Animal Diversity Web. Retrieved 2008-04-05.
  5. ^ "Implantation". University of Wyoming. Retrieved 2008-04-05.
  6. ^ a b Daniel, J.C., Jr. (Apr 1970). "Dormant embryos of mammals". BioScience. 20 (7): 411–415. doi:10.2307/1295231. JSTOR 1295231.
  7. ^ Lopes, Flavia L; Joëlle A Desmarais; Bruce D Murphy (2004). "Embryonic diapause and its regulation". Reproduction. 128 (3): 669–678. doi:10.1530/rep.1.00444. PMID 15579584. Retrieved 2008-04-05.
  8. ^ Lindenfors, P; Dalen, L.; Angerbjorn, A. (2003). "The monophyletic origin of delayed implantation in carnivores and its implications". Evolution. 57 (8): 1952–1956. doi:10.1554/02-619. PMID 14503635.