The toco toucan (Ramphastos toco), the largest member of the toucan family, possesses the largest beak relative to body size of all birds. This exaggerated feature has received various interpretations, from serving as a sexual ornament to being a refined adaptation for feeding. However, it is also a significant surface area for heat exchange. Here we show the remarkable capacity of the toco toucan to regulate heat distribution by modifying blood flow, using the bill as a transient thermal radiator. Our results indicate that the toucan's bill is, relative to its size, one of the largest thermal windows in the animal kingdom, rivaling elephants' ears in its ability to radiate body heat.
SUMMARYThe tegus increase in body mass after hatching until early autumn, when the energy intake becomes gradually reduced. Resting rates of oxygen consumption in winter drop to 20% of the values in the active season(V̇O2=0.0636 ml g-1 h-1) and are nearly temperature insensitive over the range of 17-25°C (Q10=1.55). During dormancy, plasma glucose levels are 60% lower than those in active animals, while total protein, total lipids and β-hydroxybutyrate are elevated by 24%, 43% and 113%,respectively. In addition, a significant depletion of liver carbohydrate (50%)and of fat deposited in the visceral fat bodies (24%) and in the tail (25%)and a slight loss of skeletal muscle protein (14%) were measured halfway through the inactive period. Otherwise, glycogen content is increased 4-fold in the brain and 2.3-fold in the heart of dormant lizards, declining by the onset of arousal. During early arousal, the young tegus are still anorexic,although V̇O2 is significantly greater than winter rates. The fat deposits analysed are further reduced (62% and 45%, respectively) and there is a large decrease in tail muscle protein (50%) together with a significant increase in glycogen(2-3-fold) and an increase in plasma glucose (40%), which suggests a role for gluconeogenesis as a supplementary energy source in arousing animals. No change is detectable in citrate synthase activity, but β-hydroxyacyl CoA dehydrogenase activities are strongly affected by season, reaching a 3-fold and 5-fold increase in the liver tissue of winter and arousing animals,respectively, and becoming reduced by half in skeletal muscle and heart of winter animals compared with late fall or spring active individuals. From hatching to late autumn, the increase of the fat body mass relatively to body mass is disproportionate (b=1.44), and the mass exponent changes significantly to close to 1.0 during the fasting period. The concomitant shift in the V̇O2 mass exponent in early autumn (b=0.75) to values significantly greater than 1.0 in late autumn and during winter dormancy indicates an allometric effect on the degree of metabolic depression related to the size of the fat stores and suggests greater energy conservation in the smaller young.
Heart rate in vertebrates is controlled by activity in the autonomic nervous system. In spontaneously active or experimentally prepared animals, inhibitory parasympathetic control is predominant and is responsible for instantaneous changes in heart rate, such as occur at the first air breath following a period of apnoea in discontinuous breathers like inactive reptiles or species that surface to air breathe after a period of submersion. Parasympathetic control, exerted via fast-conducting, myelinated efferent fibres in the vagus nerve, is also responsible for beat-to-beat changes in heart rate such as the high frequency components observed in spectral analysis of heart rate variability. These include respiratory modulation of the heartbeat that can generate cardiorespiratory synchrony in fish and respiratory sinus arrhythmia in mammals. Both may increase the effectiveness of respiratory gas exchange. Although the central interactions generating respiratory modulation of the heartbeat seem to be highly conserved through vertebrate phylogeny, they are different in kind and location, and in most species are as yet little understood. The heart in vertebrate embryos possesses both muscarinic cholinergic and β-adrenergic receptors very early in development. Adrenergic control by circulating catecholamines seems important throughout development. However, innervation of the cardiac receptors is delayed and first evidence of a functional cholinergic tonus on the heart, exerted via the vagus nerve, is often seen shortly before or immediately after hatching or birth, suggesting that it may be coordinated with the onset of central respiratory rhythmicity and subsequent breathing.
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ABSTRACTThe cardiovascular system of all animals is affected by gravitational pressure gradients, the intensity of which varies according to organismic features, behavior, and habitat occupied. A previous nonphylogenetic analysis of heart position in snakes-which often assume vertical postures-found the heart located 15%-25% of total body length from the head in terrestrial and arboreal species but 25%-45% in aquatic species. It was hypothesized that a more anterior heart in arboreal species served to reduce the hydrostatic blood pressure when these animals adopt vertical postures during climbing, whereas an anterior heart position would not be needed in aquatic habitats, where the effects of gravity are less pronounced. We analyzed a new data set of 155 species from five major families of Alethinophidia (one of the two major branches of snakes, the other being blind snakes, Scolecophidia) using both conventional and phylogenetically based statistical methods. General linear models regressing log 10 snout-heart position on log 10 snout-vent length (SVL), as well as dummy variables coding for habitat and/or clade, were compared using likelihood ratio tests and the Akaike Information Criterion. Heart distance to the tip of the snout scaled isometrically with SVL. In all instances, phylogenetic models that incorporated transformation of the branch lengths under an Ornstein-Uhlenbeck model of evolution (to mimic stabilizing selection) better fit the data as compared with their nonphylogenetic counterparts. The bestfit model predicting snake heart position included aspects of both habitat and clade and indicated that arboreal snakes in our study tend to have hearts placed more posteriorly, opposite the trend identified in previous studies. Phylogenetic signal in relative heart position was apparent both within and among clades. Our results suggest that overcoming gravitational pressure gradients in snakes most likely involves the combined action of several cardiovascular and behavioral adaptations in addition to alterations in relative heart location.
We investigated the combined effect of meal size and temperature on the aerobic metabolism and energetics of digestion in Boa constrictor amarali. Oxygen uptake rates (Vd2;o2) and the duration of the digestion were determined in snakes fed with meals equaling to 5%, 10%, 20%, and 40% of the snake's body mass at 25 degrees and 30 degrees C. The maximum Vd2;o2 values attained during digestion were greater at 30 degrees C than at 25 degrees C. Both maximal Vd2;o2 values and the duration of the specific dynamic action (SDA) were attained sooner at 30 degrees C than at 25 degrees C. Therefore, the temperature effect on digestion in Boa is characterized by the shortening of the SDA duration at the expense of increased Vd2;o2. Energy allocated to SDA was not affected by meal size but was greater at 25 degrees C compared to 30 degrees C. This indicates that a postprandial thermophilic response can be advantageous not only by decreasing the duration of digestion but also by improving digestive efficiency. Maximal Vd2;o2 and SDA duration increased with meal size at both temperatures.
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