Torpor patterns in desert hedgehogs (Paraechinus aethiopicus) represent another new point along a thermoregulatory continuum

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Peer-Reviewed Research
  • SDG 13
  • Abstract:

    Documenting variation in thermoregulatory patterns across phylogenetically and geographically diverse taxa is key to understanding the evolution of endothermy and heterothermy in birds and mammals. We recorded body temperature (Tb) in free-ranging desert hedgehogs (Paraechinus aethiopicus) across three seasons in the deserts of Saudi Arabia. Modal Tb’s (357– 36.57C) were slightly below normal formammals but still warmer than those of other hedgehogs. The single maximum Tb recorded was 39.27C, which is cooler than maximum Tb’s recorded in most desert mammals. Desert hedgehogs commonly used torpor duringwinter and spring but never during summer. Torpor bouts occurred frequently but irregularly, and most lasted less than 24 h. Unlike daily heterotherms, desert hedgehogs did occasionally remain torpid for more than 24 h, including one bout of 101 h. Body temperatures during torpor were often within 27–37C of ambient temperature; however, we never recorded repeated bouts of long, predictable torpor punctuated by brief arousal periods similar to those common among seasonal hibernators. Thus, desert hedgehogs can be included on the ever-growing list of species that display torpor patterns intermediate to traditionally defined hibernators and daily heterotherms. Extant hedgehogs are a recent radiation within an ancient family, and the intermediate thermoregulatory pattern displayed by desert hedgehogs is unlike the deeper and more regular torpor seen in other hedgehogs, suggesting that this may be a derived—as opposed to ancestral—trait in this subfamily. We suggest that this family (Erinaceidae) and order (Eulipotyphla) may be important for understanding the evolution of thermoregulatory patterns among Laurasiatheria and mammals in general.