Growth and development can occur over a wide range of physical conditions in reptiles. Cardiovascular function must be critical to this ability. However, information on cardiovascular function in developing reptiles is lacking. Previous work indicated that in reptiles the effects of temperature on growth and metabolism are largely restricted to early development. This study examined whether the previously observed effects of temperature and different perinatal patterns of metabolism observed in amniotic vertebrates are correlated with cardiovascular function. Embryonic and hatchling carcass mass, heart mass and heart rate (HR) were compared for snapping turtle eggs (Chelydra serpentina) incubated at 24 degrees and 29 degrees C. Incubation time was shorter at 29 degrees C (56.2 days) than at 24 degrees C (71.1 days). Carcass and heart growth showed a sigmoidal pattern at both temperatures. However, cardiac growth showed a relative decrease as incubation proceeded. Incubation temperature significantly affected the HR pattern during development. The HR of embryos incubated at 24 degrees C was constant for most of incubation (51.8 +/- 4.8 min-1). A small decrease was observed just prior to and a large decrease immediately following hatching (posthatch, 22.3 +/- 4.1 min-1). At 29 degrees C embryonic HR was greater than at 24 degrees C early in development (72.3 +/- 3 min-1). The HR steadily decreased to values equivalent to those at 24 degrees C. The HRs of 24 degrees C and 29 degrees C hatchlings were not different. Cardiac output (estimated as the product of heart mass and HR) increased rapidly during early development and then slowed dramatically at both temperatures. These data are consistent with the suggestion that temperature exerts its effects primarily early in development. Furthermore, the changes in cardiovascular function are correlated with metabolic changes in hatching vertebrates.