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J Exp Biol. 2018 Oct 18;221(Pt 20). pii: jeb185900. doi: 10.1242/jeb.185900.

Extreme physiological plasticity in a hibernating basoendothermic mammal, Tenrec ecaudatus.

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School of Life Sciences, University of Nevada, Las Vegas, Las Vegas, NV 89154, USA
School of Life Sciences, University of Nevada, Las Vegas, Las Vegas, NV 89154, USA.
Sable Systems International, Las Vegas, NV 89032, USA.


Physiological plasticity allows organisms to respond to diverse conditions. However, can being too plastic actually be detrimental? Malagasy common tenrecs, Tenrec ecaudatus, have many plesiomorphic traits and may represent a basal placental mammal. We established a laboratory population of T. ecaudatus and found extreme plasticity in thermoregulation and metabolism, a novel hibernation form, variable annual timing, and remarkable growth and reproductive biology. For instance, tenrec body temperature (T b) may approximate ambient temperature to as low as 12°C even when tenrecs are fully active. Conversely, tenrecs can hibernate with T b of 28°C. During the active season, oxygen consumption may vary 25-fold with little or no change in T b During the austral winter, tenrecs are consistently torpid but the depth of torpor may vary. A righting assay revealed that T b contributes to but does not dictate activity status. Homeostatic processes are not always linked, e.g. a hibernating tenrec experienced a ∼34% decrease in heart rate while maintaining constant body temperature and oxygen consumption rates. Tenrec growth rates vary but young may grow ∼40-fold in the 5 weeks until weaning and may possess indeterminate growth as adults. Despite all of this profound plasticity, tenrecs are surprisingly intolerant of extremes in ambient temperature (<8 or >34°C). We contend that while plasticity may confer numerous energetic advantages in consistently moderate environments, environmental extremes may have limited the success and distribution of plastic basal mammals.


Oxygen consumption; Thermoregulation; Variable body temperature

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