The respiratory consequences of feeding in amphibians and reptiles

Comp Biochem Physiol A Mol Integr Physiol. 2001 Mar;128(3):535-49.


Many ectothermic vertebrates ingest very large meals at infrequent intervals. The digestive processes associated with these meals, often coupled with an extensive hypertrophy of the gastrointestinal organs, are energetically expensive and metabolic rate, therefore, increases substantially after feeding (specific dynamic action, SDA). Here, we review the cardio-respiratory consequences of SDA in amphibians and reptiles. For some snakes, the increased oxygen uptake during SDA is of similar magnitude to that of muscular exercise, and the two physiological states, therefore, exert similar and profound demands on oxygen transport by the cardiorespiratory systems. In several species, SDA is attended by increases in heart rate and overall systemic blood flows, but changes in blood flow distribution remain to be investigated. In snakes, the regulation of heart rate appears to involve a non-adrenergic-non-cholinergic mechanism, which may be a regulatory peptide released from the gastrointestinal system during digestion. Digestion is also associated with a net acid secretion to the stomach that causes an increase in plasma HCO3- concentration (the 'alkaline tide'). Experiments on chronically cannulated amphibians and reptiles, show that this metabolic alkalosis is countered by an increased P(CO2), so that the change in arterial pH is reduced. This respiratory compensation of arterial pH is accomplished through a reduction in ventilation relative to metabolism, but the estimated reductions in lung P(O2) are relatively small. The SDA response is also associated with haematological changes, but large interspecific differences exist. The studies on cardiorespiratory responses to digestion may allow for a further understanding of the physiological and structural constraints that limits the ability of reptiles and amphibians to sustain high metabolic rates.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Amphibians / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Cardiovascular Physiological Phenomena
  • Digestion
  • Energy Metabolism
  • Feeding Behavior*
  • Reptiles / physiology*
  • Respiration*