Have you ever thought why do dogs pant and why do lizards sunbathe? Yes, these are the few animal behavioral strategies to regulate their body temperature which is called as Thermoregulation.
Thermoregulation is the ability of an organism to maintain a core body temperature, which is 37° C (98°F) within an optimal physiological range. The hypothalamus, a portion of a brain which plays an important role in regulating body temperature by acting as a thermostat. Thermoregulation is also called as the heat regulation.
Example: Human beings living in a climate of varying temperature and are able to maintain constant body temperature. In both animals and birds, the balance in heat gain and loss is provided by the hair, feathers, and fat skin layers.
We might have come across the term cold blood and warm-blooded animals. Based on the temperature regulation and their adaptations towards balancing the gain and loss in the body heat, these animals are classified into:
- Ectothermic Animals
They are commonly called cold-blooded animals. They gain most of their heat from external sources. They produce a very less amount of heat to keep their body warm and has a low metabolic rate. Examples of ectothermic animals include amphibians, fish, lizards, other reptiles, etc.
- Endothermic Animals
They are commonly called as warm-blooded animals. They develop most of the heat mainly from their body’s metabolisms and produce a required amount of heat to keep their body warm. These animals have a very high metabolic rate. Examples of Endothermic animals include all mammals and birds.
Mechanism of Thermoregulation
The hypothalamus is a small section or a portion of a human brain, which is mainly involved in secretion or release of all hormones from their respective glands and controlling several body functions. The mechanisms of thermoregulation are also controlled by this Hypothalamus.
When there is a small variation in the internal body temperature, the sensors in the central nervous system sends the message to the hypothalamus and in response, the hypothalamus sends signals to various cells, muscles, and other systems in our body.
If our body needs to warm up, the mechanisms of thermoregulation include:
- Vasoconstriction: As the blood vessels under the skin receive signals they become narrower to decrease the blood flow and retain heat to warm the inner body.
- Thermogenesis: This process is mainly seen in all warm-blooded animals. The body’s organs produce heat in a variety of ways to keep the body warm.
- Hormonal thermogenesis: In this mechanism, the thyroid gland regulates to release hormones in order to increase the body’s metabolism, which produces a more amount of heat to maintain a stable internal body temperature.
If our body needs to cool down, the mechanisms of thermoregulation include:
- Sweating: Here the sweat glands receive signals to release sweat and it cools our skin as it evaporates. This helps by lowering the internal temperature.
- Vasodilatation: In this process, the blood vessels present beneath the skin expand and increases the blood flow, which cools by releasing the body’s heat through heat radiation.
Importance of Thermoregulation
The mechanisms thermoregulation are all designed to return the body to homeostasis or a state of equilibrium. This process helps in controlling the loss or gain of heat and maintaining of an optimum temperature range by an organism.
As mentioned earlier, average healthy body temperature falls within a 37°C to 37.8°C. However, if the body temperature falls from 37°C to 35°C or lower, then a person may suffer from a medical emergency of hypothermia. This condition leads to cardiac arrest, brain damage, and even death. The factors affecting the hypothermia or lower in the internal body temperature include metabolic conditions, such as an under-functioning thyroid gland, usage of alcohols and other drugs.
In the case of hyperthermia, a medical condition in which the body temperature rises from 37°C to 42 °C, then a person may suffer from the brain damage or even death in rare cases. The factors affecting the hyperthermia or raise internal body temperature include exercise, fever, digestion, some hormonal changes, and other infections.
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