The physiology of hypothermia in the black-capped Chickadee,Parus atricapillus


The shivering, body temperature, and metabolic response to stable and decreasing ambient temperature were measured in winter acclimatized Black-capped Chickadees,Parus atricapillus. Shivering activity, measured by duration and amplitude of bursts, increased curvilinearly from thermoneutral temperatures of 27°C down to 0°C. This parabolic shivering response may be a major component of the curvilinear response of metabolism to decreasing ambient temperature.

Birds exposed to 0°C exhibited metabolism 32–45% lower than predicted for a 12-g homeotherm and body temperatures 10°C below the pre-experimental nocturnal body temperature. This hypothermia was not the result of a breakdown in thermoregulation, but was a controlled effort serving to reduce overnight energy expenditure. It is suggested that (1) hypothermia was achieved by decreased shivering by pectoral muscles during exposure to decreasing ambient temperatures, (2) the rate of body temperature decline was moderated by intermittent and reduced bursts during the cooling period, and (3) body temperature was maintained at a particular level during exposure to a stable low ambient temperature by intense bursts lasting one to three minutes.

The physiology of hypothermia in chickadees is similar to torpor; however, chickadees did not arouse to a normal diurnal body temperature in the laboratory, and their hypothermia was not induced by inanition or prolonged exposure to cold, as reported for other species capable of torpor.

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Chaplin, S.B. The physiology of hypothermia in the black-capped Chickadee,Parus atricapillus . J Comp Physiol B 112, 335–344 (1976) doi:10.1007/BF00692303

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  • Energy Expenditure
  • Ambient Temperature
  • Human Physiology
  • Body Temperature
  • Prolonged Exposure