Reptile thermogenesis and the origins of endothermy
Extant endotherms have high rates of metabolism, elevated body temperatures, usually tight control over body temperature, and a reasonable scope for further increases in metabolism through locomotor activity. Vertebrate ectotherms, on the other hand, rely on behavioural thermoregulation and cardiovascular adjustments to facilitate warming, and generally lack specific biochemical and cellular mechanisms for sustained, elevated metabolism. Nevertheless, the ancestral condition to endothermy is thought to resemble that of many extant reptiles, which raises the question of the origins and selection pressures relevant to the transitional state. Numerous hypotheses have emerged to explain the multiple origins of endothermy in vertebrates, including thermoregulatory, locomotory, and reproductive activity as possible drivers for these sustained and elevated metabolic rates. In this article, I discuss recent evidence for facultative endothermy in an extant lepidosaur, the tegu lizard. Since lepidosaurs are a sister group to the archosaurs, understanding how a novel form of endothermy evolved will open up opportunities to test the compatibility or incompatibility of the various endothermy hypotheses, with potential to elucidate and resolve long contentious ideas in evolutionary physiology.