Physiological aspects of torpor in the fat mouse (Steatomys pratensis, Dendromurinae)
Richardson, Eleanor Judith.
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Several aspects of the physiology of the fat mouse Steatomys pratensis natalensis were studied in the laboratory using standard techniques and custom-made data-logging equipment. The fat was studied both from a morphological and functional point of view. The measurement of metabolic rates showed that euthermic S.pratensis have very low basal metabolic rates of 36% of expected, with torpor saving up to 69% of expended energy. Body temperatures, oxygen consumption, and activity patterns monitored over 24 hour periods with a data-logging system showed that Sipratensis have very low body temperatures of 31.3 to 35.0°C which fluctuate on a circadian rhythm with activity and oxygen consumption, all being lower during the day and higher at night. Torpor started very early in the morning and lasted for 5.5 to 11.7 hours. Huddling with a mate could reduce energy expenditure by 18%. Torpid body temperatures lay just above ambient from 15 to 35°C, below which all animals tried to arouse. Forced arousal at 10 to 30°C was slow and depended on ambient temperature while no mouse could arouse at O°C. Thermal conductance was 97.4 % of expected but cooling rates of dead S.pratensis were slow due to the heavy fat layer. Non-shivering thermogensis (measured after noradrenaline injection) was normal at 369% of BMR but maximum metabolism was twice as much, indicating other means of thermogenesis used additively with NST. Dissection showed extremely heavy fat deposits in the normal mammalian positions and also three additional deposits. Histological studies revealed most deposits as white fat but there was brown fat in the interscapular region. Soxhlet analysis showed an extremely wide range of body fat content from normal mammalian levels to contents higher than in hibernating rodents. Deprivation of food and water, or food alone, was found to induce torpor and cause the mice to become non-reproductive. Deprivation of water but not food, and deprivation of a cage mate, triggered torpor in only 40 - 44% of the cases studied. The mice took 5 to 12 days to lose 30% of their mass, but theoretically could survive longer. Weekly measurements showed no annual mass fluctuations in the laboratory but the mice became reproductively active mid-summer to early winter while torpor was at a maximum around late winter. All animals showed torpor, young more than adults and females more than males. It is suggested that the low body temperature and metabolism of S.pratensis may have evolved to prevent overheating caused by their inability to lose heat through the heavy fat layer. The species could then disperse into areas where their low energetic demands would permit them to compete successfully with high metabolic rate rodents.