Although heterothermy (hibernation and torpor) is a common feature among mammals, there is debate over whether it is a derived or ancestral trait relative to endothermic homeothermy. Determination of the physiological characteristics of primitive mammals is central to understanding the evolution of endothermy. Moreover, evaluation of physiological mechanisms responsible for endothermic heat production [e.g. non-shivering thermogenesis (NST)] is key to understanding how early mammals responded to historical climate changes and colonised different geographical regions. Here we investigated the capacity for NST and heterothermy in the Hottentot golden mole, a basal eutherian mammal. NST was measured as the metabolic response to injections of noradrenalin and heterothermy by recording body temperature in free-ranging animals. We found that hibernation and torpor occurred and that the seasonal phenotypic adjustment of NST capacity was similar to that found in other placental mammals. Using phylogenetically independent contrasts, we compared measured values of NST with those obtained from the literature. This showed that all variation in NST was accounted for by differences in phylogeny and not zoogeography. These findings lend support to the observation that NST and heterothermy occur in the Afrotheria, the basal placental mammalian clade. Furthermore, this work suggests that heterothermy, rather than homeothermy is a plesiomorphic trait in mammals and supports the notion that NST mechanisms are phylogenetically ancient.