Cool echidnas survive the fire

Julia Nowack*, Christine Elizabeth Cooper, Fritz Geiser

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

38 Citations (Scopus)


Fires have occurred throughout history, including those associated with the meteoroid impact at the Cretaceous Palaeogene (K-Pg) boundary that eliminated many vertebrate species. To evaluate the recent hypothesis that the survival of the K-Pg fires by ancestral mammals was dependent on their ability to use energy-conserving torpor, we studied body temperature fluctuations and activity of an egg-laying mammal, the echidna (Tachyglossus aculeatus), often considered to be a 'living fossil', before, during and after a prescribed burn. All but one study animal survived the fire in the prescribed burn area and echidnas remained inactive during the day(s) following the fire and substantially reduced body temperature during bouts of torpor. For weeks after the fire, all individuals remained in their original territories and compensated for changes in their habitat with a decrease in mean body temperature and activity. Our data suggest that heterothermy enables mammals to outlast the conditions during and after a fire by reducing energy expenditure, permitting periods of extended inactivity. Therefore, torpor facilitates survival in a fire-scorched landscape and consequently may have been of functional significance for mammalian survival at the K-Pg boundary.

Original languageEnglish
Article number20160382
Pages (from-to)1-8
Number of pages8
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1828
Publication statusPublished - 13 Apr 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • torpor
  • prescribed burn
  • body temperature
  • food reduction
  • activity
  • Prescribed burn
  • Torpor
  • Body temperature
  • Activity
  • Food reduction


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