Widespread Torpor Use in Hummingbirds from the Thermally Stable Lowland Tropics

Henry S. Pollock, Daniel Lamont, Sean E. Macdonald, Austin R. Spence, Jeffrey D. Brawn, Zachary A. Cheviron

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Torpor, the temporary reduction of metabolic rate and body temperature, is a common energy-saving strategy in endotherms. Because of their small body size and energetically demanding life histories, hummingbirds have proven useful for understanding when and why endotherms use torpor. Previous studies of torpor in hummingbirds have been largely limited to tropical montane species or long-distance migrants that regularly experience challenging thermal conditions. Comparatively little is known, however, about the use of torpor in hummingbirds of the lowland tropics, where relatively high and stable year-round temperatures may at least partially negate the need for torpor. To fill this knowledge gap, we tested for the occurrence of torpor in tropical lowland hummingbirds (n = 37 individuals of six spe-cies) from central Panama. In controlled experimental conditions simulating the local temperature regime, all six species used torpor to varying degrees and entered torpor at high ambient temperatures (i.e., ≥28°C), indicating that hummingbirds from the thermally stable lowland tropics regularly use torpor. Torpor reduced overnight mass loss, with individuals that spent more time in torpor losing less body mass during temperature exper-iments. Body mass was the best predictor of torpor depth and duration among and within species—smaller species and individuals tended to use torpor more frequently and enter deeper torpor. Average mass loss in our experiments (∼8%–10%) was greater than that reported in studies of hummingbirds from higher elevation sites (∼4%). We therefore posit that the energetic bene-fits accrued from torpor may be limited by relatively high nighttime temperatures in the lowland tropics, although further studies are needed to test this hypothesis.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)119-127
Number of pages9
JournalPhysiological and Biochemical Zoology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 1 2023


  • Trochilidae
  • body size
  • energy savings
  • environmental temperature
  • heterothermy
  • metabolic rate
  • thermoregulation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Physiology
  • Biochemistry


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