The Scarlet & Black

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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Bears do things so right in the wintertime

I think the reason that some people don’t like winter is they aren’t as unspeakably lazy as I am. The minor mobility inconveniences caused by four feet of snow buy you three months worth of laying around in fuzzy slippers drinking warm beverages and eating cookies–pretty freakin’ awesome.

The only thing better than sitting on your butt absorbing calories in womb-like comfort is sleeping for unlimited amounts of time.Experimental research has shown that I am capable of passing out for over 12 hours at once. And once you’ve wasted half the day, you might as well accept that the rest of it isn’t going anywhere productive. Why get out of bed?

This trail of thought has led me to be envious of bears. They get real fat and sleep for months straight in the winter. Cheers, bears. You have life figured out. And, astoundingly, it gets even better.

In between meals, I play softball. This requires a certain amount of muscle mass, which undoubtedly would be turned to jelly as I relaxed in my den, since for every day of inactivity you lose about 1-1.5 percent of your muscle mass, plateauing at a net loss of 60-75 percent of your original strength. I’m not exactly a monster in the gym to begin with, so I’d have to wake up every couple of days to do squats, which sounds like a terrific nuisance.

Fortunately, those bears have thought of it all. They invented an inhibitor of muscle degradation, so come springtime, Papa Bear is still in shape enough to hunt boy scouts by the dozen.

Experiments have shown that growing rat muscle with bear plasma (mmmm … rat-bear) keeps the rat’s muscles from breaking down after a period of inactivity. This suggests that something in the bears’ plasma keeps the rat’s protein breaker-downers from eating the muscle when its cells get hungry.

Since bears don’t eat or drink (or pee) for three months and keep their body at an almost normal temperature, their bodies ought to be under serious metabolic distress–which is just the time most muscle breaker-downers jump into action. But in bears they don’t, and it works out fine. The bear just runs on stored fat rather than breaking down its muscles.

This is pretty clear evidence that God likes bears better than humans. But if we’re not blessed, at least we’re tricky: scientists are trying to steal the superpowers of God’s chosen creatures. Avoiding muscle breakdown would be handy not just for the clinically idle, but for people with afflictions more serious than sloth. Like AIDS.

One of the first signs of AIDS is a loss of appetite, weight and muscle, collectively called cachexia. Scientists still aren’t exactly sure what goes wrong, but research shows that your body is preferentially burning muscle instead of fat. So it would be great if a little bear plasma could eliminate the muscle as a potential energy source and force your body to use fat.

It would also be a sweet deal for astronauts, for whom the inherent awesomeness of low gravity travel is balanced out by lots of bone and muscle loss. The magic plasma would also help on missions to far away places (well, farther) where the astronauts would want to sleep through the journey and not wake up all shriveled.

That would be pretty great and all, but there is no way that astronauts or AIDS patients can hit up the coolest part of bear hibernation–those crazy SOBs give birth in their sleep.

Here’s how this goes down: ’round ’bout Bastille Day, lady-bear lays down some scent trails, and has lots of nasty bear sex for a couple of days. Her fertilized egg divides a couple of times but delays implantation so she doesn’t have to go through any of that messy pregnancy stuff while conscious. If all goes well, she goes to sleep in the fall all fat and happy, sleeps though labor, and wakes up in the spring with a couple of cubs.

Now, this is something that probably works out fine, but would come as quite a surprise the first time around. Tina Q. Bear thought she had gotten away with her wild little fling, having not been pregnant in the 6 months after it occurred. Then she took a nap and woke up the mother of two. Christ.

It is kind of a relief that humans don’t do this. We pretty much just die if we try to hibernate. In fact, the only primate to hibernate is the “fat-tailed dwarf lemur,” which sleeps for seven months out of the year despite living in Madagascar. Sounds like a close relative of the hobbit.

But I’m not judging. That is the life for me. Eating a ton, passing out, and waking up skinny. Winter break, here I come. Which way to the bear plasma?

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