Squamate metabolic rates decrease in winter beyond the effect of temperature

Shahar Dubiner*, Simon Jamison, Shai Meiri, Eran Levin

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The reptilian form of hibernation (brumation) is much less studied than its mammalian and insect equivalents. Hibernation and brumation share some basic features but may differ in others. Evidence for hypometabolism in brumating reptiles beyond the effect of temperature is sporadic and often ignored. We calculated the standard metabolic rates (SMR, oxygen uptake during inactivity), in winter and/or summer, of 156 individuals representing 59 species of Israeli squamates across all 17 local families. For 32 species, we measured the same individuals during both seasons. We measured gas exchange continuously in a dark metabolic chamber, under the average January high and low temperatures (20°C and 12°C), during daytime and nighttime. We examined how SMR changes with season, biome, body size, temperature and time of day, using phylogenetic mixed models. Metabolic rates increased at sunrise in the diurnal species, despite no light or other external cues, while in nocturnal species the metabolic rates did not increase. Cathemeral species shifted from a diurnal-like diel pattern in winter to a nocturnal-like pattern in summer. Regardless of season, Mediterranean species SMRs were 30% higher than similar-sized desert species. Summer SMR of all species together scaled with body size with an exponent of 0.84 but dropped to 0.71 during brumation. Individuals measured during both seasons decreased their SMR between summer and winter by a 47%, on average, at 20°C and by 70% at 12°C. Q10 was 1.75 times higher in winter than in summer, possibly indicating an active suppression of metabolic processes under cold temperatures. Our results challenge the commonly held perception that squamate physiology is mainly shaped by temperature, with little role for intrinsic metabolic regulation. The patterns we describe indicate that seasonal, diel and geographic factors can trigger remarkable shifts in metabolism across squamate species.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2163-2174
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Animal Ecology
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 2023


  • Q
  • allometry
  • brumation
  • circadian rhythm
  • hibernation
  • metabolic depression
  • metabolic rate
  • reptiles


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