Injured black bears emerge from hibernation with barely a scratch.
Although their body temperatures and heart rates drop dramatically and blood circulation slows, black bears heal while hibernating without infections and little scaring, reported zoologists in the journal Integrative Zoology. What's more, the sleeping bears heal without eating, drinking, or relieving themselves.
But the benefits aren't just for bears. Understanding the healing hibernating bruins could bear fruit for doctors.
“Further research as to the underlying mechanisms of wound healing during hibernation could have applications in human medicine,” said the zoologists in the abstract to the paper.
Humans and most other mammals don't heal well when their body temperatures are even slightly below normal or they have poor circulation.
“Unique approaches may be found to improve healing for malnourished, hypothermic, diabetic and elderly patients or to reduce scarring associated with burns and traumatic injuries,” wrote the zoologists.
To test the healing ability of the bears, the zoologists proved they were willing to risk it all in the name of science. They gave small cuts to the skin of a group of wild bears they were observing just as the bears were preparing for hibernation. Then they backed off and let them hibernate for two to three months. As the bears were reaching the natural time in the season when they wake up, the brave bear researchers checked the wounds.
Not only had every bear healed itself, the skin had sealed up with little visible damage and even started growing new fur.
“These healing abilities of hibernating black bears are a clear survival advantage to animals injured before or during denning,” wrote the zoologists.
But how much survival advantage is there in cutting a black bear, then disturbing its slumber?
American Black Bear Ursus americanus At Cincinnati Zoo (Ltshears, Wikimedia Commons)