Daily torpor in free-ranging rock elephant shrews, Elephantulus myurus: a year-long study

Physiol Biochem Zool. Mar-Apr 2004;77(2):285-96. doi: 10.1086/381470.


Under laboratory conditions, rock elephant shrews, Elephantulus myurus, use daily torpor under both short and long photoperiod acclimation. However, use of heterothermy often differs under field and laboratory conditions. We investigated the use of torpor in free-ranging elephant shrews from May 2001 to May 2002. The elephant shrews were capable of daily torpor throughout the year, with torpor most prevalent during winter. We recorded two torpor bouts during early summer (November). We recorded a total of 467 torpor bouts during the year. The mean torpor minimum body temperature (Tbmin) for the whole year was 15.3 degrees +/-4.4 degrees C, and the mean bout length was 8.6+/-3.5 h. These values were in the range expected for daily heterotherms. However, there was some marginal overlap with hibernation characteristics; a few torpor bouts were longer than 24 h in duration, and Tbmin decreased below 10 degrees C. Torpor was highly correlated with low ambient temperature and photoperiod. Torpor was also correlated with invertebrate abundance after controlling for photoperiod effects. During the year in which this study was conducted, the rainfall was 14% below long-term average. Historical rainfall records show that summer rainfall during strong El Nino years is up to 40% below the long-term average. During these drought years, the frequency of summer torpor may be higher, highlighting the need for long-term physiological data in free-ranging animals.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Body Temperature Regulation / physiology*
  • Circadian Rhythm / physiology*
  • Climate
  • Eating
  • Invertebrates
  • Photoperiod
  • Regression Analysis
  • Seasons*
  • Shrews / physiology*
  • South Africa
  • Temperature