Modeling the costs and benefits associated with the evolution of endothermy using a robotic python

J. Alex Brashears, Ty C.M. Hoffman, Dale Denardo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Endothermy provides considerable benefits to an organism but requires large energy investment. To understand potential driving forces that would lead to the evolution of endothermy, it is important to understand the energy costs and potential benefits of intermediate steps between ectothermy and homeothermic endothermy as well as the influences of environmental conditions on energetic costs. However, efforts to examine intermediate conditions are greatly limited by the predominant natural dichotomy between ectothermy and endothermy. Facultative endothermy by brooding pythons provides a fortunate study system where endothermy is beneficial but not essential. As one cannot control the extent of energy investment in heat production by a female python, we created an artificial snake with controllable heating capability. This enabled us to determine the energetic costs of maintaining a clutch at a preferred temperature, and to determine the relative thermal benefit of limited energy-producing capability (i.e. 50% of the required energy to maintain the preferred developmental temperature). We manipulated the pseudoserpent's clutch size (5, 10, 15 eggs), diel ambient temperature cycle (2, 4, 6°C) and insulation (with and without) at each of these power levels: unlimited power, half required power and no power. We found no significant effect of clutch size on either power requirements or developmental temperature. Energy requirements increased with the amplitude of the diel cycle and decreased with the addition of insulation, while the quality of the thermal environment decreased with the amplitude of the diel cycle. Interestingly, the quality of the thermal environment also decreased with the addition of insulation. We discuss these results within the context of the reproductive model of the evolution of endothermy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2409-2417
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Experimental Biology
Issue number13
StatePublished - Jul 1 2017


  • Facultative thermogenesis
  • Nest site selection
  • Parental care
  • Pseudoserpent

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Physiology
  • Aquatic Science
  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Molecular Biology
  • Insect Science


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