Summary1. Freshwater fishes are the most northerly of freshwater ectotherms, followed by frogs. North American freshwater snakes, turtles, and salamanders do not range farther north than southernmost Canada.2. Freezing and desiccation are the main challenges during terrestrial hibernation of ectotherms. Oxygen depletion, water balance, and ionic balance are the major problems for air breathing ectotherms that hibernate underwater.3. The importance of accumulation of energy stores for overwintering among fishes depends upon the length and severity of the winters, whether or not there is springtime reproduction, body size, latitude, and the availability and use of food during overwintering.4. Fishes can decrease energy demands during the winter by reductions in activity, metabolic depression, and entrance in semi-torpidity.5. Adaptations for coping with hypoxia and anoxia among overwintering freshwater fishes may include metabolic depression, a decrease in blood O2 affinity, microhabitat selection, air breathing, short-distance migration, biochemical modifications aimed at adjusting glycolytic rates, and alcoholic fermentation.6. Freshwater turtles have a worldwide northern limit of approximately 50° N, which means that some species spend about half of their lives hibernating.7. Aquatic turtles normally hibernate underwater, although occasionally they hibernate on land. In water they usually hibernate in a hypoxic or anoxic (mud) environment and in relatively shallow water. Wintertime movements of unknown frequency occur in some species.8. The hatchlings of many turtle species can overwinter in the nest. Among northern species this behaviour is most common among painted turtles, whose hatchlings can withstand freezing.9. Mortality among adult turtles is probably highest during the hibernation cycle.10. Temperature appears to the most important cue for entry and exit from hibernation among freshwater turtles.11. Little is known of the energetics of overwintering turtles. Energy stores for overwintering may be more important at lower latitudes than at higher ones, due to the higher metabolic rates of overwintering, but non-feeding, southern turtles.12. The ability of turtles to tolerate submergence is a function of temperature, degree of water oxygenation, latitude of origin, efficacy of extrapulmonary respiratory pathways, and metabolic rate.13. For turtles that hibernate in an anoxic hibernaculum, and for those without sufficient extrapulmonary uptake of O2 to allow metabolism to be completely aerobic, the most important physiological perturbation is an acidosis developed from a continuing production of lactate. If sufficient O2 can be obtained, the most likely factors limiting hibernation time are water balance and ion balance.14. Mechanisms of turtles for coping with acidosis include metabolic depression, integumental CO2 loss, bicarbonate buffering, and changes in ion concentrations that minimize the decrease in SID (strong ion difference). The most important among the latter are a decrease in plasma [Cl-] and large increases in plasma calcium and magnesium.15. Turtles are unique among reptiles in their ability to maintain both cardiovascular and nervous system function during prolonged anoxia.16. Turtles gain weight from water uptake during submerged hibernation, but apparently maintain some kidney function; however, osmoregulation is one of the least known areas of the physiology of hibernation.17. Recovery of turtles upon emergence commences with a rapid hyperventilatory compensation of pH, followed by a slower adjustment of ion levels. Basking speeds recovery greatly.18. While hibernation of turtles in the northern parts of their ranges is most likely very stressful physiologically, northern range limits are more likely to be determined by reproductive restraints than by the rigors of extended hibernation.19. The superior ability of turtles to tolerate anoxia may be more the result of an annual hibernation than of their diving habits during active periods of the year.20. Freshwater snakes usually hibernate on land. However, they appear to be capable of aquatic hibernation and may not do so because of the risk of death from anoxia.21. Some species of terrestrial snakes are known to hibernate underwater, and are able to do so in the laboratory for months. In the field, this behaviour is considered opportunistic, as there is no evidence to suggest that any snakes can tolerate extended anoxia.