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Endotherms: Examples & Explanation

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  • 0:00 What Is an Endotherm?
  • 1:05 How It Works
  • 2:05 Endotherms Vs. Ectotherms
  • 3:15 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Julie Zundel

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.

Endotherms are able to maintain a constant body temperature, even in extreme environments. This lesson explains how they can do this and compares endotherms with ectotherms.

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.

Lizards bask in the sun because they cannot regulate their own body temperature

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.

When a person runs, she may sweat in order to cool down

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.

Panting dog

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.

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