Sunday, 1 March 2015

How long do bears hibernate?

My dad and I went to the zoo last week. My dad and my mum are getting a divorce, so he's trying to spend more time with me. He's moved out of the house and now lives in a small flat in the city. I think my parents' separation is a little crazy. Especially after they've refurbished most of our house together. But lots of my friends have divorced parents, so I understand that they are no longer getting along. Maybe it's because of all the crazy refurbishing? The good thing is that I get to spend most weekends with my dad. The rest of the week I'm with my mum. The whole divorce thing is also why I haven't been able to post anything in a while ...

Anyway. My dad and I went to the zoo last week and I checked out the tigers. They had a few cubs and they were pretty amazing! But I like the bears more, so we went to see them. The zoo keeper in charge of the bears told us that they were hibernating. I didn't know that bears could hibernate even when they're kept in zoos. But my dad said it's in their nature. I wanted the zoo keeper to tell me a little more about hibernation, but he was in quite a hurry. So I went online and did a little research...

It turns out that bears are not the only animals that hibernate. A lot of other animals do as well. During hibernation, animals do more than just sleep through the cold, though. I found out that they can lower their body temperature, slow their breathing and lower their heart rate. I think that's pretty cool! There are even some fish that go dormant when they need to, and there's one special type of bird called Common Poorwill that hibernates in California. A few lemurs, bats and mice do also hibernate. Check out this website for a more comprehensive list of hibernating animals.

When bears hibernate, they still consume about 4,000 calories per day. This is quite a lot, considering that humans only need 2,000. But it's nothing for a grown bear - they can eat up to 20,000 calories when they're preparing for hibernation. Bears usually hibernate from 5 to 7 months a year, depending on where in the world they live and how much food there is. Once they're in their hibernating state, they only need to breathe every 45 seconds or so. Their heart rate can lower to as low as 8 beats per second, and they can reduce their normal blood flow to 45%!

Polar bears only hibernate when they're giving birth. They dig a whole in the snow, disappear for three months and live off their fat reserves. The problem is that the more they lose their natural environment because of climate change, the less they can eat and build up fat for giving birth. The result is less and less polar bear cubs! I thought that was quite depressing ... It's "Raise your Paw for Polar Bears" for Greenpeace this week, so maybe we can all help via #raiseyourpaw.

I also found out that bears in captivity normally don't hibernate. Our zoo has a huge outdoor enclosure  for its bears, so maybe that's why they still do sleep for quite some time. Or it's because the zoo wants them to keep up their normal and instinctive behaviour. I'll have to ask the zoo keeper next time we're there...

I took the sleeping King Julian image from the Madagascar Wiki. The picture about the divorce came from a lawyer's website. The awesome sleeping bear came from the Times' website. The cute polar bear cub is from    

Monday, 28 July 2014

Do sheep sweat a lot in summer?

One of my aunts lives by the sea. Because it is such a hot summer this year, we went and visited her last weekend. My mom said, she needed some time away after all the house refurbishment she had to do with my dad over the past few months.

My aunt loves sheep and she keeps a few of them in her back garden. (She lives on a small farm, so her back garden is a little bigger than ours). The sheep seemed pretty hot, so I asked her if she knew if they were sweating a lot in summer. She didn't know, so I went online and did a little research...

I think sheep are pretty cool. They're always hungry, their poo is not as smelly as cow dung or dog poo; and when they baa, they sound a lot like the horn of my dad's old camper van. But there are a few more reasons why I think sheep are so great.

Our Geography teacher told us that there are three times more sheep in Wales than people. Wales has about 3 million inhabitants, so that would mean there are more than 9 million sheep in Wales. (There are only a few more sheep than people in Scotland, in case you're interested - check out the Scottish Government's site on sheep to find out more). Most sheep live in China (144 million). When they're together, they are called a 'flock'. They can produce lactose free cheese (which is very good news for people like my dad - if you want to know why, you should check out my post on lactose intolerant people). The first mammal scientists could clone was also a sheep. It was called Dolly and lived a very happy life (or so they say) in Edinburgh until it died in 2003 (you can find out more about Dolly on this site called Animal Research).

But the coolest fact about sheep is that they're so white and fluffy and that their wool can be used for all kinds of fascinating things. If you're a vegan, you won't be interested in this. But sheep can produce sheep wool insulation for your house and their wool can keep you very warm in winter. The sheep hair that goes into the wool grows in waves which are called 'crimp'.

I also found out that sheep don't get wet because of Lanolin. Lanolin is sometimes called 'wool grease' and it is what keeps sheep dry in Winter. The grease can be extracted from shorn wool and used for waterproofing. (You can find out more about Lanolin by checking out the Wikipedia article. And you can click here for some more cool facts on sheep and on wool production in the UK).

Anyway. It turns out that sheep actually do sweat a lot because they have sweat glands. Apparently, they also become very smelly if they do. Sheep get shorn just before summer or before they have to 'go into housing' in winter. Their wool keeps them so warm inside or during the hot months of summer that it would be way too hot for them otherwise. The best thing to do when they start sweating is to shear them then. And since they're letting us have all their wool and grease, I think we should all be very friendly towards them and appreciate them a bit more when we see them.

The picture of the sheep by the sea was taken by Sam_CH and can be found on The derelict house came from the Guardian's website. The sheep with the camera is from a website called

Sunday, 18 May 2014

Why can't people eat grass?

My grandma died last week. On Thursday, my mom got a call from a nurse and then she cried. I wasn't quite sure what to do. But my mom said that it was important she got some flowers. At my grandpa's funeral a few months before, she didn't bring any, and her sisters started to make fun of her. I thought that was pretty ugly...

I liked my grandma. I still haven't cried or anything. But I've been thinking about her a lot. We used to visit her when I was little. I spent some of my summer holidays with her. I remember that she had a drawer with all kinds of fancy chocolate...

One day, the police found her outside her house eating her lawn. She hit one of them when he tried to pull her away and that was when they realized she was a little crazy. My aunt had her put in a mental institution. I always thought it was a bit odd to hospitalize someone just because they were eating grass. But my mom later told me that it wasn't just the grass. Grandma had some sort of schizophrenia. (If you want to find out a little more about schizophrenic people, check out this helpful website). I think my uncle also suffers from it; although he never tried to eat the grass in front of his house (check out my post on the number 13 in case you want to know more about my strange Uncle Herbert).

Anyway. All this thinking about my grandma made me realize that no one has ever explained to me why people shouldn't eat grass. My friend Steve thinks it's because people are told not to (Steve has a few crazy ideas, but he's a genius inventor. You should read up on what he said in Sunday school a few months ago).

I didn't believe he was right, so I did a little research... First I tried some of the grass in front of our house. It was awful!! I think the grass we have isn't meant for eating at all! My teeth turned green and my mom thought I was going crazy too. I also got a horrible stomach ache and had to fart like crazy for the rest of the day...

The sheep seem to like it. And so do the cows. But that's only because they can digest the grass much better than we can. People can actually eat grass. It's not toxic or anything. But it doesn't do them any good because they can't digest it. Cows and sheep are ruminating animals. They have several stomachs and they ferment the grass before it gets to their main digestive system. (Check out this Wikipedia image for some funny names and a cool example of a 'ruminant stomach').

There is also another problem with eating grass (if you're not a cow or a sheep). Grass contains an awful lot of silica. Silica is an abrasive macromolecule that can be found in sand and glass. This means that your dentist wouldn't want you eating grass because it will grind down your teeth. Cows and sheep can grow new ones in case this happens. But humans can't. (For all the chemistry freaks: silica is actually silicon dioxide. Check out this interesting blog to find out a bit more on its use and where it comes from. You can also find out some more info about its chemical structure on

As it turns out, my grandma actually was a little crazy when she tried to eat the grass. But I don't think that was the real reason why she was put in a mental home. I miss her a lot. I also found out that there are quite a lot of other crazies who eat grass from time to time. Check out this article from the Daily Mail, for example. It's about a South African preacher who made his congregation eat grass so they could be 'closer to God'. Now - how is that for crazy?

If you want to read a little more about religious fanatics, you can have a look at my post on 'So, when was God invented, then?'. For more information on grass eating, you should have a look at this short article on In case you are looking for help with schizophrenia or for more info, check out this NHS site.

I took the flower picture from the Telegraph's website. The sheep came from a New Zealand website on sheep and farming called I found the silicon dioxide structure on and the crazy religious fanatic came from the Daily Mail article.