Endothermy: Wikis

Note: Many of our articles have direct quotes from sources you can cite, within the Wikipedia article! This article doesn't yet, but we're working on it! See more info or our list of citable articles.


(Redirected to Warm-blooded article)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

In biology, a warm-blooded animal species is one whose members maintain thermal homeostasis; that is, they keep their body temperature at a roughly constant level, regardless of the ambient temperature. This involves the ability to cool down or produce more body heat. Warm-blooded animals mainly control their body temperature by regulating their metabolic rates (e.g. increasing their metabolic rate as the surrounding temperature begins to decrease).

Both the terms "warm-blooded" and "cold-blooded" have fallen out of favour with scientists, because of the vagueness of the terms, and due to an increased understanding in this field. Body temperature types are not discrete categories. Each term may be replaced with one or more variants (see: Definitions of warm-bloodedness). Body temperature maintenance incorporates a wide range of different techniques that result in a body temperature continuum, with the traditional ideals of warm-blooded and cold-blooded being at opposite ends of the spectrum.


Definitions of warm-bloodedness

Warm-bloodedness generally refers to three separate aspects of thermoregulation.

  1. Endothermy is the ability of some creatures to control their body temperatures through internal means such as muscle shivering or fat burning (Greek: endon = "within", thermē = "heat"). Some writers restrict the meaning of "endothermy" to mechanisms which directly raise the animal's metabolic rate in order to produce heat. The opposite of endothermy is ectothermy.
  2. Homeothermy is thermoregulation that maintains a stable internal body temperature regardless of external influence. This temperature is often (though not necessarily) higher than the immediate environment (Greek: homoios = "similar", thermē = "heat"). The opposite is poikilothermy.
  3. Tachymetabolism is the kind of thermoregulation used by creatures that maintain a high resting metabolism (Greek: tachys/tachus = "fast, swift", metabolēn = "throw beyond"). Tachymetabolic creatures are, essentially, "on" all the time. Though their resting metabolism is still many times slower than their active metabolism, the difference is often not as large as that seen in bradymetabolic creatures. Tachymetabolic creatures have greater difficulty dealing with a scarcity of food.

A large proportion of the creatures traditionally called "warm-blooded" (mammals and birds) fit all three of these categories. However, over the past 30 years, studies in the field of animal thermophysiology have revealed many species belonging to these two groups that don't fit all these criteria. For example, many bats and small birds are poikilothermic and bradymetabolic when they sleep for the night (or day, as the case may be). For these creatures, another term was coined: heterothermy.

Further studies on animals that were traditionally assumed to be cold-blooded have shown that most creatures incorporate different variations of the three terms defined above, along with their counterparts (ectothermy, poikilothermy and bradymetabolism), thus creating a broad spectrum of body temperature types (see temperature control in cold-blooded animals). Even some fish have "warm-blooded" features. Swordfish and some sharks have circulatory mechanisms that keep their brains and eyes at above ambient temperatures, and thus increase their ability to detect and react to prey.[1][2][3] Tunas and some sharks have similar mechanisms in their muscles, improving their stamina when swimming at high speed.[4]


Generating and conserving heat

The creatures traditionally regarded as warm-blooded have a larger number of mitochondria per cell, which enables them to generate heat by increasing the rate at which they "burn" fats and sugars. This requires a much greater quantity of food than is needed by cold-blooded animals in order to replace the fat and sugar reserves.

In many endothermic animals a controlled state of hypothermia called hibernation, or torpor conserves energy by lowering the body temperature. Many birds' and small mammals' (e.g. tenrecs) body temperature drops during daily inactivity, such as at night for diurnal animals or during the day for nocturnal animals thus reducing the energy cost of maintaining body temperature. Human metabolism also slows down slightly during sleep.

Heat loss is a major threat to smaller creatures as they have a larger ratio of surface area to volume. Most small warm-blooded animals have insulation in the form of fur or feathers. Aquatic warm-blooded animals generally have deep layers of fat under the skin for insulation, since fur or feathers would spoil their streamlining. Penguins have both feathers and fat, since their need for streamlining limits the degree of insulation which feathers alone can give them. Birds, especially waders, have blood-vessels in their lower legs which act as heat exchangers - veins are right next to arteries and thus extract heat from the arteries and carry it back into the trunk. Many warm-blooded animals blanch (become paler) in response to cold, which reduces heat loss by reducing the blood flow to the skin.

Avoiding over-heating

In equatorial climates and during temperate summers over-heating is as great a threat as cold. In hot conditions many warm-blooded animals increase heat loss by panting and or flushing (increasing the blood flow to the skin). Hairless and short-haired mammals also sweat, since the evaporation of sweat consumes a lot of heat. Elephants keep cool by using their huge ears like radiators in automobiles: they flap their ears to increase the airflow over them.

Warm-blooded vs. cold-blooded

Advantages of a fast metabolism

The overall speed of an animal's metabolism increases by a factor of about 2 for every 10 C° rise in temperature (limited by the need to avoid hyperthermia). Warm-bloodedness does not provide greater speed than cold-bloodedness - cold-blooded animals can move as fast as warm-blooded animals of the same size and build when the cold-blooded animal is near or at its optimum temperature. But warm-blooded animals have much greater stamina than cold-blooded creatures of the same size and build, because their faster metabolisms quickly regenerate energy supplies (especially ATP) and break down muscular waste products (especially lactate). This enables warm-blooded predators to run down cold-blooded prey, warm-blooded prey to outrun cold-blooded predators (provided they avoid the initial charge or ambush) and warm-blooded animals to be much more successful foragers. Warm-blooded creatures can be active at more time during the diurnal cycle in places of sharp temperature differences between day and night and during more of the year in places of great seasonal differences of temperature.

Advantages of homeothermy

Enzymes have strong temperature preferences and their efficiency is much reduced outside their preferred ranges. A creature with a fairly constant body temperature can therefore specialize in enzymes which are efficient at that particular temperature. Another advantage of a homeothermic animal is its ability to maintain its constant body temperature even in freezing cold weather. A poikilotherm must either operate well below optimum efficiency most of the time, migrate and be inactive sometimes, or expend extra resources producing a wider range of enzymes to cover the wider range of body temperatures.

Protection against fungal infections

While hundreds of thousands of species of fungi are known to infect plants, and tens of thousands infect insects, only a few hundreds target mammals, and often only those with a compromised immune system. A recent study [5] suggests that fungi are fundamentally ill-equipped to thrive at mammalian temperatures. Thus warm-bloodedness might have provided an evolutionary advantage.

Disadvantages of warm-bloodedness

Because warm-blooded animals use enzymes which are specialized for a narrow range of body temperatures, over-cooling rapidly leads to torpor and then death. Also, the energy required to maintain the homeothermic temperature comes from food - this results in homeothermic animals needing to eat much more food than poikilothermic animals.

Some predators have the capacity to detect warm-blooded prey (typically rodents and small birds) through the heat that the animal generates. Likewise, they are unable to detect cold-blooded prey (such as lizards and frogs).[citation needed]

Thermographic image: a coldblooded snake is eating a warmblooded mouse

Shivering and fat-burning to maintain temperature are very energy-intensive, for example:

  • in winter many small birds lose one third of their body weight overnight.[citation needed]
  • in general a warm-blooded animal requires 5 to 10 times as much food as a cold-blooded animal of the same size and build, so cold-blooded animals are better at surviving in barren environments.[citation needed]

Temperature control in cold-blooded animals

Scientific understanding of thermal regulation regimes has advanced greatly since the original distinction was made between warm- and cold-blooded animals, and the issue has been studied much more extensively.

Many cold-blooded animals use behavioral means to adjust their internal temperatures:

  • lizards and snakes bask in the sun in the early morning and late evening, and seek shelter around noon.
  • many species of bees and moths flap their wings vigorously to raise the temperature of their flight muscles before taking off.
  • bees in large hives will cool the hive in hot periods by going to its entrances and using their wings as fans to draw cooling air through the hive. They will warm the hive in cool periods by gathering in the middle and shivering to produce heat.
  • termite mounds are usually oriented in a north-south direction so that they absorb as much heat as possible around dawn and dusk and minimise heat absorption around noon.

Some other cold-blooded creatures use internal mechanisms to maintain body temperatures significantly above the ambient level:

  • Tuna and Swordfish. Fish have long been thought to be cold blooded. Tuna and swordfish dive deep into the ocean where the water is very cold. Swordfish are able to raise the temperature of their brains and eyes, which allows faster eye movements when hunting. Tuna are able to warm their entire bodies through a heat exchange mechanism called the rete mirabile, which helps keep heat inside the body, and minimizes the loss of heat through the gills. They also have their swimming muscles near the center of their bodies instead of near the surface, which minimises heat loss.
  • "Warm-blooded" sharks (e.g. mako and white sharks), to minimize heat loss through their gills, pass their blood through rete mirabile heat exchangers before it enters into the gills and after it exits from them: Veins are right next to arteries and thus extract heat from the arteries and carry it back into the body. The most "Warm-blooded" shark is the Salmon Shark that can hunt as far north as Alaska.
  • Large sea turtles exhibit inertial homeothermy (Gigantothermy) - their low ratio of surface area to volume minimises heat loss.

See also


  1. ^ Hot Eyes for Cold Fish -- Wong 2005 (110): 2 -- ScienceNOW
  2. ^ Block, B.A., and Carey, F.G. (March 1985). "Warm brain and eye temperatures in sharks". Journal of Comparative Physiology B: Biochemical, Systemic, and Environmental Physiology (Springer) 156 (2): 229. doi:10.1007/BF00695777. http://www.springerlink.com/content/ux6865g5610x54n4/. 
  3. ^ "Warm eyes give deep-sea predators super vision". University of Queensland. 11 January 2005. http://www.uq.edu.au/news/?article=6503. 
  4. ^ McFarlane, P. (January 1999). "Warm-Blooded Fish". Monthly Bulletin of the Hamilton and District Aquarium Society. http://www.aquarticles.com/articles/breeding/McFarlane_Warm_Blooded_Fish.html. 
  5. ^ Robert, Vincent A. and Casadevall, Arturo (2009). "Vertebrate Endothermy Restricts Most Fungi as Potential Pathogens". The Journal of Infectious Diseases 200 (10): 1623-1626. doi:10.1086/644642. 
  • Mark Blumberg (April 2002). Body Heat: Temperature and Life on Earth. Harvard University Press. ISBN 978-0674007628. 

External links

Got something to say? Make a comment.
Your name
Your email address