The cardiodynamic consequences of dry season dormancy in ectothermic vertebrates is not well known. Our hypothesis was that dormancy would reduce cardiac activity. We therefore determined oxygen uptake and cardiovascular function in aestivating toads, Bufo paracnemis, native to São Paulo State, Brazil. Specimens were collected and kept in the laboratory under controlled temperature and light regimes. We compared oxygen uptake, heart rate, blood pressure, rate-pressure product (RPP), and blood gases in toads during aestivation (dry winter season) and their early active season (spring). Oxygen uptake of winter toads at 25 degrees C was considerably lower than that of spring toads (winter: 24.0 +/- 1.8 ml/(kgh); early spring: 44.4 +/- 5.1 ml/(kgh); mean +/- SE; same in the following). A seasonal dichotomy was also observed at 15 degrees C although the differences was less pronounced (15.8 +/- 1.8 ml/(kgh) winter; 23 +/- 2.1 ml/(kgh) early spring). Chronic arterial cannulation permitted measurements of cardiodynamic variables without any undesired change in VO2. Heart rates of winter toads were significantly lower than those of early spring animals at both experimental temperatures (25 degrees C: winter 25 +/- 1.4 beats/min.; early spring: 35.2 +/- 5.1 beats/min. 15 degrees C: winter 15, 4 +/- 1.8 beats/min.; early spring: 23.9 +/- 2.1 beats/min). Systemic, diastolic and mean arterial pressures decreased slightly but not significantly during aestivation. We conclude that: (1) Bufo paracnemis downregulates metabolic rate during the dry season and (2) heart rate is also downregulated with little change of blood pressure. While the energetics of these responses are probably beneficial for survival during aestivation, the underlying biochemical mechanisms remain obscure.