The origin of endothermy is a puzzling phenomenon in the evolution of vertebrates. To address this issue several explicative models have been proposed. The main models proposed for the origin of endothermy are the aerobic capacity, the thermoregulatory and the parental care models. Our main proposal is that to compare the alternative models, a critical aspect is to determine how strongly natural selection was influenced by body temperature, and basal and maximum metabolic rates during the evolution of endothermy. We evaluate these relationships in the context of three main hypotheses aimed at explaining the evolution of endothermy, namely the parental care hypothesis and two hypotheses related to the thermoregulatory model (thermogenic capacity and higher body temperature models). We used data on basal and maximum metabolic rates and body temperature from 17 rodent populations, and used intrinsic population growth rate (R(max)) as a global proxy of fitness. We found greater support for the thermogenic capacity model of the thermoregulatory model. In other words, greater thermogenic capacity is associated with increased fitness in rodent populations. To our knowledge, this is the first test of the fitness consequences of the thermoregulatory and parental care models for the origin of endothermy.