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Cicadas draw attention to other creatures that go dormant during their life cycle


Two broods of cicadas are emerging in big numbers in the United States after a long nap. Feels like a special occasion, although it turns out that many creatures do something like this, go dormant as part of their normal life cycle.


Yes. As one video from Nat Geo explains, when drought hits sub-Saharan Africa, the freshwater lungfish burrows into the mud.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Where it coats itself in mucus, which dries to a leathery body bag, protecting it from total dehydration.

INSKEEP: Eugh (ph).

MARTIN: I know, right? The European dormouse, made famous - OK, sort of famous - by "Alice In Wonderland," can sleep up to 11 months of the year, living on its own accumulated body fat.

INSKEEP: Also, tiny freshwater crustaceans called fairy shrimp lay eggs that can remain on dry ground for years, until enough rain creates a pond for them to hatch.

MARTIN: Clay Bolt manages pollinator conservation for the World Wildlife Fund. He calls dormancy a survival mechanism for extreme conditions.

CLAY BOLT: This is just a strategy that many species have evolved over the years to allow themselves to survive during the most difficult parts of the year.

INSKEEP: Bolt says royal insects - those are leafcutter ant queens, queen termites, bumblebee queens - also spend time underground in suspended animation as part of their natural life cycles. The world's smallest creatures, Bolt says, have a lot to teach us.

BOLT: These animals have been on Earth a lot longer than we have, and they have figured out some of the ways to navigate these challenges that we are just now figuring out.

MARTIN: Bolt wants us to remember that though they might give us the creeps, these underground bugs are a good thing.

BOLT: There is life in the soil. They are breaking down organic materials. They're doing a lot of good work that helps the Earth to function.

INSKEEP: Melissa Hawkins is curator of terrestrial mammals at the National Museum of Natural History here in Washington, D.C. She confesses to a bias for squirrels. Who doesn't have a bias for squirrels? They often...

MARTIN: I do not.

INSKEEP: (Laughter).

MARTIN: I'll explain.

INSKEEP: All right. They'll often hibernate and have invaded nearly every part of the world.

MELISSA HAWKINS: And actually live in really the most extreme terrestrial habitats that the planet has to offer.

INSKEEP: Really? The little squirrels live in extreme habitats.

MARTIN: Yes, and they have an extreme fondness for the peaches off my tree, but I digress.

INSKEEP: (Laughter).

HAWKINS: Arctic ground squirrels live in subzero climates. OK, carrying on...


MARTIN: ...Hawkins says research into dormant states like this can help us.

HAWKINS: It shows a lot of promise in these areas for stroke and brain injuries, which is really cool to think about - how, like, a little sleeping squirrel getting a CAT scan could help humans sometime down the road.

MARTIN: There's also research into wood frogs, which survive the winter frozen solid. That could help us learn more about human tissue damage from the cold.

INSKEEP: Wow. It's like that movie "Frozen." Who knew?

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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