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Aestivation | Overview & Examples

Haripriya Munipalli, Terry Dunn
  • Author
    Haripriya Munipalli

    Haripriya Munipalli has taught botany and biochemistry to undergraduates for 7 years. She has M.Sc. in Plant Sciences degree from University of Hyderabad, India and Master of Philosophy degree from Annamalai University.

  • Instructor
    Terry Dunn

    Terry has a master's degree in environmental communications and has taught in a variety of settings.

Understand the definition of aestivation in zoology, know the purpose of aestivation, discover examples of animals that aestivate, and learn the difference between aestivation and hibernation. Updated: 11/30/2021

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What is Aestivation?

The aestivation definition in zoology means slowing down of the activity and metabolism during a hot and dry season (such as summer). It is a prolonged and deep torpor (maintenance of body temperature) during the hot and dry summer. It is also called summer dormancy.

Aestivation is a means of avoiding environmental stresses. Another form of aestivation is exhibited by animals to act against heat stress. This is observed more frequently in ectothermic (cold-blooded) animals than in endotherms. In both cases, the triggering event for aestivation is the combination of high temperatures and water shortage. The location for aestivation for insects might be outside the residence zone when the climate permits breeding. In the next season, they come back to the breeding place and lay eggs. The migration distances might be very far.

Lungfish bury themselves and get encased in a mucous sheath that hardens gradually. They spend the dry season here when the waterline reduces and the lake bed dries out. Fish enter into the aestivation period when their metabolism, respiration, and heart rate decrease to very low levels. Their falling oxygen requirement enables the lungfish to survive without food or water for a few months or years until the water is restored.

Aestivation is a prolonged rest in some species. Aestivating mammals regulate their metabolism, although the effects are not exactly as great as they are with hibernation.

Role of Aestivation

Animals that aestivate do not exist in a deep state of dormancy and might reverse back to normal if the need arises. Some snails, such as the milk snail (Otala lactea) native to North Africa and Europe, have the ability to reverse back from dormancy in just 10 minutes. Aestivation plays the role of conserving water and energy. The physiological processes the animals go through in aestivation are similar to hibernation. Aestivation involves the usage of stored energy, dealing with products containing nitrogen, and the stabilization of body organs.

Animals That Aestivate

The period of dormancy is characterized by the reduced metabolic activity of the animal. The dry environment that stimulates this kind of condition normally occurs during the summer. Research suggests that the evolution of this process in both aquatic and terrestrial animals might have occurred millions of years ago. Invertebrates and vertebrates aestivate during the summer to avoid excess water loss or extreme dryness.

Invertebrates

Numerous species in phylums Mollusca and Arthropoda go through this process. Many aestivation examples from the phylum Mollusca are from the class Gastropoda, which covers land snails. The snails of this class climb up plants and reach shaded areas to aestivate. These kinds of animals are found in locations where there are bushy or crop trees as well as in forested areas. Usually, farmers have a troublesome time with the crops on which these snails climb for aestivation. To avoid loss of water, a few of the land snails release a substance that synthesizes a membrane to close their shells.

Land Snail

Land Snail

Members of two classes of Arthropoda called Insecta and Crustacea also undergo aestivation. The Insecta class includes mosquitoes, lady beetles, bogong moths, false honey ants, adult alfalfa weevils, and others. All of these show reduced activity during the summer. In the Crustacea class, the Austrothelphusa transversa (freshwater crab) moves to underground regions for aestivation purposes during the summer period.

Lady Beetles

Lady Beetles

Vertebrates

Among vertebrate animals, the reptiles, fish, amphibians, and mammals aestivate. Reptiles and amphibians include desert tortoises, salamanders, and crocodiles. These animals aestivate at places where the temperature is very low (such as underground). In the case of the red-legged frog of California, aestivation occurs when food and water levels are very low and not necessarily in the summer. Another example is the water-holding frog that aestivates by moving underground during the summer in a watertight layer. Some Australian aborigines squeeze water from the frogs in the summer (which can kill the frog). The African lungfish is another animal that aestivates. There are also rare mammals that can aestivate, including the fat-tailed dwarf lemur and the African hedgehog.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between hibernation and estivation?

The process of animals protecting themselves from hot and dry summer by migrating to cool places and remaining dormant for a period is called aestivation. Aestivating animals protect themselves from the loss of water and food. Hibernation is the process of animals getting to warmer places to protect themselves from winter or cold weather and sustaining themselves in the face of a lack of food and water. Hibernating is also a way for animals to remain dormant for a certain period.

What animals use estivation?

Animals that want to regulate their body temperatures during hot and dry summer and avoid water loss go through the process of aestivation. They also attempt to overcome a lack of food and water by being dormant for a certain period of time. Certain gastropods and mollusks as well as some reptiles, mammals, fish, and amphibians use aestivation. This group includes land snails, lady beetles, turtles, and mosquitoes.

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