We measured the effects of hypoxia and changes in ambient temperature (T) on the oxygen consumption (VO2) of chicken embryos at embryonic days 11, 16 and 20 (E11, E16 and E20, respectively), and post-hatching day 1 (H1). Between 30 and 39 degrees C, at E11 and E16, VO2 changed linearly with T, as in ectothermic animals, with a Q10 of about 2.1. At E20, VO2 did not significantly change with T, indicating the onset of endothermy. At H1, a drop in T increased VO2, a clear thermogenic response. Hypoxia (11% O2 for 30 min) decreased VO2, by an amount that varied with T and age. At H1, hypoxia lowered VO2 especially at low T. At E20, hypoxic hypometabolism was similar at all T. At E11 and E16, hypoxia lowered VO2 only at the higher T. In fact, at E11, with T=39 degrees C even a modest hypoxia (15-18% O2) decreased VO2. Upon return to normoxia after 40 min of 11% O2, VO2 did not rise above the pre-hypoxic level, indicating that the hypometabolism during hypoxia did not generate an O2 debt. At E11, during modest hypoxia (16% O2) at 36 degrees C, the drop in VO2 was lifted by raising the T to 39 degrees C, suggesting that the hypoxic hypometabolism at 36 degrees C was not due to O2-supply limitation. In conclusion, the hypometabolic effects of hypoxia on the chicken embryo's VO2 depend on the development of the thermogenic ability, occurring predominantly at high T during the early (ectothermic phase) and at low T during the late (endothermic) phase. At E11, both low T and low oxygen force VO2 to drop. However, at a near-normal T, modest hypoxia promotes a hypometabolic response with the characteristics of regulated O2 conformism.