Julie has taught high school Zoology, Biology, Physical Science and Chem Tech. She has a Bachelor of Science in Biology and a Master of Education.
What Is an Endotherm?
You might not know it yet, but you are an endotherm. So is your dog, Fluffy, and your cat, Whiskers. The birds flying over your house are even endotherms. So, it seems everyone is an endotherm, right? Nope.
Birds and mammals are endotherms, whereas the goldfish swimming in your fishbowl, the lizard basking in light of the heat lamp, and the frog swimming in your tank are not endotherms. So, what is an endotherm?
The word endotherm is Greek and literally translates into 'within temperature,' which means endotherms are critters that control their own body temperature. The goldfish, lizard, and frog are ectotherms, which translates into 'outside temperature,' meaning their environment controls their body temperature.
The words endotherm and ectotherm sound a lot alike, so it is a good idea to come up with a way to remember the difference. The word endotherm sounds like in-do-therm, which will help you remember that endotherms regulate their body temperature from inside.
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How It Works
You may not realize your body is constantly regulating your temperature, but you certainly have noticed some of the effects. Your central nervous system tells a section of your brain, the hypothalamus, to regulate body temperature through sweating, blood vessel dilation and constriction, and shivering.
When you get cold, your body shivers to generate heat, and you may become pale because blood vessels called capillaries constrict to avoid heat loss. Your body may tell your thyroid, a gland in your neck, to increase your metabolism, which will increase your body temperature. When you get too hot, your body sweats, and your skin may become red and flushed because capillaries dilate to release heat.
Fluffy, Whiskers, and the birds flying over your house are able to maintain their body temperature in much the same way as you with a few exceptions. Fluffy, Whiskers, and the birds are covered with fur or feathers, so they pant. Birds do not sweat, but Fluffy and Whiskers sweat through their feet.
Endotherms Vs. Ectotherms
Due to their ability to regulate their own body temperature, endotherms can be found all over the world. Ectotherms, on the other hand, have a more limited habitat because they must depend on their environment. For example, in the northern parts of Alaska, there are no reptiles and only one species of frog, but there are numerous species of mammals and birds.
Maintaining a constant body temperature requires a lot of energy, so endotherms must continually eat whereas ectotherms can go days without food. Because endotherms have a faster metabolism compared to ectotherms, they are able to have larger brains. Larger brains allow endotherms to have complex behaviors not seen in many ectotherms.
Finally, because endotherms maintain a constant body temperature, their body cannot withstand extreme temperature fluctuation. If an endotherm's body becomes too hot or cold, it will die. An ectotherm, on the other hand, is designed to withstand a wide temperature range, so if it gets too cold or too hot, the ectotherm will survive.
Endotherms can be found all over the world because of their ability to regulate their body temperature with their central nervous system through blood vessel constriction, dilation, sweating, and shivering. This requires a lot of energy and a high metabolism so endotherms must have a constant food source. This high metabolism allows endotherms to sustain a large brain, which allows for complex behaviors. Finally, if endotherms are unable to maintain their body temperature, they will die because their bodies are designed to operate within a specific temperature range.
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Endotherms: Examples & Explanation
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