The study bears all wore radio collars, so we were able to locate them by using a tracking antenna. Here we are, trudging through the North Woods behind one of Lynn's assistants who is holding the antenna.
Peering into 395's den after some snow had been cleared from the opening. Her den was like a small underground cave, maybe 8 feet long and a few feet deep.
Here I am entering the den - hanging upside down with two guys holding my ankles. Many people ask if it smelled bad. No, it smelled like dirt. During hibernation, bears do not eat, drink, urinate, or defecate - and hibernation in northern Minnesota typically lasts from October until mid-April - about 6 months! Their physiology is actually quite fascinating! Most other mammals would die of dehydration or renal failure after only a week or two without water. Bears will lose approximately 25% (as much as 40% for a lactating sow) of their body weight during hibernation, but seem to retain muscle and bone mass, so it's all fat loss. They give birth and nurse their cubs during this time as well. Try doing THAT while you're"sleeping" :)
This particular bear, 395, had two cubs even though she was 21 years old at the time (that's an old bear)! For reference, Lily the Internet Sensation is 3. We got the cubs out first and promptly got them inside our jackets to keep them warm. Cubs are typically born in mid to late January and are practically hairless, weighing less than a pound. This excursion took place in mid-March, so the cubs were approximately 2 month old fuzz balls and weighed about 3 pounds.
Cute little buggers, aren't they? Their eyes were just starting to open. Check out the claws on the front feet!
And the little pink feet on the hind legs!
After the cubs were taken care of, it was time to get Mama out of the den. Since she was sedated throughout this entire process, she was limp as a rag, weighed about as much as the average human male, and you already saw the den opening. Not an easy job!
Once she was out, she got a thorough check up: weighed, blood drawn, breast milk sample taken, teeth checked and measured, pads of feet checked (they shed the outer layers of skin during hibernation), brand spankin' new radio collar put on, etc.
The sedative makes their eyes twitch back and forth - kind of eerie. Soon our job was finished and it was time to carefully put the bear family back where they belonged and say goodbye. The entire experience was one of the most fulfilling of my life and gave me a new found appreciation for black bears. Thanks for letting me tag along, Lynn!
Dr. Lynn Rogers, March 1991