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Neonatal lab rats huddling for warmth.

Kleptothermy is any form of thermoregulation by which an animal shares in the metabolic thermogenesis of another animal. It may or may not be reciprocal, and occurs in both endotherms and ectotherms. Its most common form is huddling.


Male Canadian garter snakes huddle around a female after hibernation when mating.

Some species of ectotherms including lizards[1] and snakes, such as boa constrictors[2] and tiger snakes,[3] increase their effective mass by clustering tightly together. It is also widespread amongst gregarious endotherms such as bats[4] and birds (such as the mousebird[5] and emperor penguin[6]) where it allows the sharing of body heat, particularly among juveniles.

In at least one case this is not reciprocal, and might be accurately described as heat-stealing. Some male Canadian red sided garter snakes engage in female mimicry by producing fake pheromones after emerging from hibernation. This causes rival males to cover them in a mistaken attempt to mate, and so transfer heat to them. This allows those males that mimic females to become more quickly revitalized after hibernation (which depends upon raising their body temperature), giving them an advantage in their own attempts to mate.[7]

Habitat sharing[edit]

Many ectotherms exploit the heat produced by endotherms by sharing their nests and burrows. For example, mammal burrows are used by geckos and seabird burrows by Australian tiger snakes and New Zealand tuatara[8] Termites create high and regulated temperatures in their mounds, and this is exploited by some species of lizards, snakes and crocodiles.[9][10]

Research has shown such kleptothermy can be advantageous: the blue-lipped sea krait, when it occupies a burrow of a pair of wedge-tailed shearwater incubating their chick, raises its body temperature to 37.5 °C (99.5 °F), compared to 31.7 °C (89.1 °F) when in other habitats. Its body temperature is also more stable. Burrows without birds did not provide this heat, being only 28 °C (82 °F).[11]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Shah B, Shine R, Hudson S, Kearney M. (2003). Sociality in lizards: why do thick-tailed geckos (Nephrurus milii) aggregate? Behaviour 140, 1039–1052. doi:10.1163/156853903322589632
  2. ^ Myres BC, Eells MM. (1968). Thermal aggregation in Boa constrictor. Herpetologica 24, 61–66. JSTOR 3891156
  3. ^ Aubret F, Shine R. (2009). Causes and consequences of aggregation by neonatal tiger snakes (Notechis scutatus, Elapidae). Aust. Ecol. 34, 210–217. doi:10.1111/j.1442-9993.2008.01923.x
  4. ^ Arends A, Bonaccorso FJ, Genoud M. (1995). Basal rates of metabolism of nectarivorous bats (Phyllostomidae) from a semiarid thorn forest in Venezuela. J. Mammal. 76, 947–956. doi:10.2307/1382765
  5. ^ Brown, C. R.; Foster, G. G. (1992). "The thermal and energetic significance of clustering in the speckled mousebird, Colius striatus". Journal of Comparative Physiology B. 162 (7): 658–664. doi:10.1007/BF00296648.
  6. ^ Ancel A, Visser H, Handrich Y, Masman D. Le Maho Y. (1997). Energy saving in huddling penguins. Nature 385, 304–305. doi:10.1038/385304a0
  7. ^ Shine R, Phillips B, Waye H, LeMaster M, Mason RT. (2001). Benefits of female mimicry to snakes. Nature, 414, 267. doi:10.1038/35104687
  8. ^ Newman DG. (1987). Burrow use and population densities of Tuatara (Sphenodon punctatus) and how they are influenced by fairy prions (Pachyptila turtur) on Stephens Island, New Zealand. Herpetologica 43, 336–344. JSTOR 3892500
  9. ^ Ehmann H, Swan G, Swan G, Smith B. (1991) Nesting, egg incubation and hatching by the heath monitor Varanus rosenbergi in a termite mound. Herpetofauna 21, 17–24.
  10. ^ Knapp CR, Owens AK. (2008). Nesting Behavior and the Use of Termitaria by the Andros Iguana (Cyclura Cychlura Cychlura). Journal of Herpetology 42(1):46-53. doi:10.1670/07-098.1
  11. ^ Brischoux F, Bonnet X, Shine R. (2009). Kleptothermy: an additional category of thermoregulation, and a possible example in sea kraits (Laticauda laticaudata, Serpentes). Biol Lett. 5(6):729-31. doi:10.1098/rsbl.2009.0550 PMID 19656862