Regional heterothermy and conservation of core temperature in emperor penguins diving under sea ice

Comp Biochem Physiol A Mol Integr Physiol. 2003 Jul;135(3):477-87. doi: 10.1016/s1095-6433(03)00133-8.


Temperatures were recorded at several body sites in emperor penguins (Aptenodytes forsteri) diving at an isolated dive hole in order to document temperature profiles during diving and to evaluate the role of hypothermia in this well-studied model of penguin diving physiology. Grand mean temperatures (+/-S.E.) in central body sites during dives were: stomach: 37.1+/-0.2 degrees C (n=101 dives in five birds), pectoral muscle: 37.8+/-0.1 degrees C (n=71 dives in three birds) and axillary/brachial veins: 37.9+/-0.1 degrees C (n=97 dives in three birds). Mean diving temperature and duration correlated negatively at only one site in one bird (femoral vein, r=-0.59, P<0.05; range <1 degrees C). In contrast, grand mean temperatures in the wing vein, foot vein and lumbar subcutaneous tissue during dives were 7.6+/-0.7 degrees C (n=157 dives in three birds), 20.2+/-1.2 degrees C (n=69 in three birds) and 35.2+/-0.2 degrees C (n=261 in six birds), respectively. Mean limb temperature during dives negatively correlated with diving duration in all six birds (r=-0.29 to -0.60, P<0.05). In two of six birds, mean diving subcutaneous temperature negatively correlated with diving duration (r=-0.49 and -0.78, P<0.05). Sub-feather temperatures decreased from 31 to 35 degrees C during rest periods to a grand mean of 15.0+/-0.7 degrees C during 68 dives of three birds; mean diving temperature and duration correlated negatively in one bird (r=-0.42, P<0.05). In general, pectoral, deep venous and even stomach temperatures during diving reflected previously measured vena caval temperatures of 37-39 degrees C more closely than the anterior abdominal temperatures (19-30 degrees C) recently recorded in diving emperors. Although prey ingestion can result in cooling in the stomach, these findings and the lack of negative correlations between internal temperatures and diving duration do not support a role for hypothermia-induced metabolic suppression of the abdominal organs as a mechanism of extension of aerobic dive time in emperor penguins diving at the isolated dive hole. Such high temperatures within the body and the observed decreases in limb, anterior abdomen, subcutaneous and sub-feather temperatures are consistent with preservation of core temperature and cooling of an outer body shell secondary to peripheral vasoconstriction, decreased insulation of the feather layer, and conductive/convective heat loss to the water environment during the diving of these emperor penguins.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antarctic Regions
  • Birds / physiology*
  • Body Temperature
  • Body Temperature Regulation / physiology*
  • Diving / physiology*
  • Extremities
  • Feathers
  • Ice
  • Muscle, Skeletal
  • Stomach
  • Subcutaneous Tissue
  • Veins


  • Ice