Duke Study Links Lemur Hibernation With Life Span

Apr 7, 2015

Jonas, the world’s oldest known dwarf lemur, died in January just months shy of his 30th birthday. Duke researchers are using lemurs like Jonas to study the biology of aging.
Credit David Haring / Duke Lemur Center

Duke University researchers have found a connection between a lemur's life span and its ability to hibernate.

Sarah Zehr is a Research Scientist at the Duke Lemur Center. She says scientists have long accepted that smaller species live shorter lives than larger ones.

But Zehr and her colleague Marina Blanco examined 50 years worth of data comparing the life spans of several species of lemurs the size of a squirrel, or smaller. The lemurs have varying tendencies to shut down their metabolic processes. That's called heterothermy.

Zehr says conventional wisdom would dictate that Giant Mouse Lemurs would live longer than Dwarf Lemurs.

"Instead, we see the most heterothermic, the dwarf lemur, with by far the longest life. Actually, the other species again correlate with that instead of body size."

Zehr says lemurs are genetically similar to humans, and this research might someday become useful in studying the potential for human hibernation. That could help in surgery and space travel.

Zehr and Blanco's study is slated for a future issue of the Journal of Zoology.