Torpor During Reproduction in Mammals and Birds: Dealing With an Energetic Conundrum

Integr Comp Biol. 2014 Sep;54(3):516-32. doi: 10.1093/icb/icu093. Epub 2014 Jun 27.


Torpor and reproduction in mammals and birds are widely viewed as mutually exclusive processes because of opposing energetic and hormonal demands. However, the reported number of heterothermic species that express torpor during reproduction is ever increasing, to some extent because of recent work on free-ranging animals. We summarize current knowledge about those heterothermic mammals that do not express torpor during reproduction and, in contrast, examine those heterothermic birds and mammals that do use torpor during reproduction. Incompatibility between torpor and reproduction occurs mainly in high-latitude sciurid and cricetid rodents, which live in strongly seasonal, but predictably productive habitats in summer. In contrast, torpor during incubation, brooding, pregnancy, or lactation occurs in nightjars, hummingbirds, echidnas, several marsupials, tenrecs, hedgehogs, bats, carnivores, mouse lemurs, and dormice. Animals that enter torpor during reproduction often are found in unpredictable habitats, in which seasonal availability of food can be cut short by changes in weather, or are species that reproduce fully or partially during winter. Moreover, animals that use torpor during the reproductive period have relatively low reproductive costs, are largely insectivorous, carnivorous, or nectarivorous, and thus rely on food that can be unpredictable or strongly seasonal. These species with relatively unpredictable food supplies must gain an advantage by using torpor during reproduction because the main cost is an extension of the reproductive period; the benefit is increased survival of parent and offspring, and thus fitness.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Birds / physiology*
  • Energy Metabolism / physiology*
  • Mammals / physiology*
  • Torpor / physiology*