Journal of Comparative Physiology A

, Volume 191, Issue 11, pp 1065–1077 | Cite as

Orientation to solar radiation in black wildebeest (Connochaetes gnou)

  • Shane K. MaloneyEmail author
  • Graeme Moss
  • Duncan Mitchell
Original Paper


We recorded the body axis orientation of free-living black wildebeest relative to incident solar radiation and wind. Observations were made on three consecutive days, on six occasions over the course of 1 year, in a treeless, predominantly cloudless habitat. Frequency of orientation parallel to incident solar radiation increased, and perpendicular to incident solar radiation decreased, as ambient dry-bulb temperature or solar radiation intensity increased, or wind speed decreased. We believe these changes were mediated via their effect on skin temperature. Parallel orientation behavior was more prominent when the wildebeest were standing without feeding than it was when they were feeding. We calculate that a black wildebeest adopting parallel orientation throughout the diurnal period would absorb 30% less radiant heat than the same animal adopting perpendicular orientation. Parallel orientation was reduced at times when water was freely available, possibly reflecting a shift from behavioral to autonomic thermoregulatory mechanisms. The use of orientation behavior by black wildebeest is well developed and forms part of the suite of adaptations that help them to maintain heat balance while living in a shadeless, often hot, environment.


Behavior Black wildebeest Diel activity patterns Orientation Thermoregulation Ungulates Connochaetes gnou 



We thank Dr. Mark Berry and DeBeers Consolidated Mines for permission to carry out the study on Benfontein, and Peter, Jennifer, Gregory, and Nicky Gibbs for their friendship and help on site. Tammy Cartmell, Steven Cartmell and Simone Glassom helped with data collection. Petro Vorster from the Kimberley office of the South African Weather Bureau kindly supplied the rainfall data. Professor Phil Withers and an anonymous reviewer helped to improve the manuscript. The study was funded in part by the South African Foundation for Research Development. SKM was in receipt of a University of the Witwatersrand Post Doctoral Fellowship. These experiments comply with the “Principles of animal care” publication number 86–23, revised 1985 of the National Institute of Health, and also the laws of South Africa.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Shane K. Maloney
    • 1
    • 3
    Email author
  • Graeme Moss
    • 2
  • Duncan Mitchell
    • 1
  1. 1.School of PhysiologyUniversity of the Witwatersrand Medical SchoolJohannesburgSouth Africa
  2. 2.Department for Environment and HeritageKangaroo IslandAustralia
  3. 3.Physiology M311, School of Biomedical and Chemical ScienceUniversity of Western AustraliaCrawleyAustralia

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