The influence of environment, sex, and innate timing mechanisms on body temperature patterns of free-ranging black-tailed prairie dogs (Cynomys ludovicianus)

Physiol Biochem Zool. Jan-Feb 2003;76(1):72-83. doi: 10.1086/367944.


Mechanisms that influence body temperature patterns in black-tailed prairie dogs are not well understood. Previous research on both free-ranging and laboratory populations of black-tailed prairie dogs (Cynomys ludovicianus) has suggested that reductions in ambient temperature and food and water deprivation are the primary factors that stimulate torpor in this species. In other species, however, torpor has been shown to be influenced by a multitude of factors, including innate circadian and circannual timing mechanisms, energy status, and reproductive behaviors. Our objective was to clarify the influence of weather, sex, and intrinsic timing mechanisms on the body temperature patterns of free-ranging black-tailed prairie dogs. We monitored body temperatures of eight adult (>1 yr) prairie dogs from November 1999 to June 2000. Prairie dogs showed distinct daily and seasonal body temperature patterns, which reflected changes in ambient temperatures that occurred during these periods. These patterns of daily and seasonal heterothermy suggest that body temperature patterns of black-tailed prairie dogs may be driven by an innate timing mechanism. All prairie dogs entered torpor intermittently throughout winter and spring. Torpor bouts appeared to be influenced by precipitation and reductions in ambient temperature. Our results also suggest that reproductive behaviors and circadian timing may influence torpor in this species.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Body Temperature / physiology*
  • Circadian Rhythm / physiology*
  • Environment*
  • Female
  • Male
  • Rain
  • Rodentia / physiology*
  • Seasons
  • Sex Characteristics*
  • Weather