Age-related variation in body temperature, thermoregulation and activity in a thermally polymorphic dragonfly

James H. Marden, Melissa G. Kramer, John Frisch

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29 Scopus citations


Thoracic temperatures (Tth) of Libellula pulchella dragonflies during activity in the field were compared between age classes and with laboratory measures of optimal thoracic temperature for flight performance (Tth,opt; a trait that varies during adult maturation in this species). Newly emerged adults (tenerals) had mean Tth values during flight (34.5°C; range 29-40°C) that did not differ from their mean Tth,opt (34.6°C; range 28.5-43.8°C). Mature adults had higher and more precisely regulated thoracic temperatures (mean Tth 41.7°C; range 37.5-45.2°C), which were somewhat lower than their mean Tth,opt (43.6°C; range 38.7-49.9°C). Among matures, behaviors requiring the highest levels of flight exertion (aerial copulation; mate guarding; escalated territorial contests) caused an elevation of Tth above that of concurrently sampled individuals engaged in routine flight (mean Tth difference 1.3°C), which raised mean Tth to a vel that was not significantly different from Tth,opt (42.5 versus 43.5°C). Compared with tenerals, matures spent more time flying, made longer-duration flights and showed a more restricted pattern of daily activity. Sympatric Anax junius dragonflies that regulate Tth endothermically had a uniform pattern of activity across the entire day, i.e. occupied a broader ecological niche than that of L. pulchella. These results support the hypotheses that optimal body temperature evolves to match the elevated body temperatures that occur during exercise and that the ecological benefits of an expanded niche are a secondary benefit rather than a primary selective force during the evolution of homeothermy and high body temperatures.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)529-535
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Experimental Biology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 1996

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Physiology
  • Aquatic Science
  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Molecular Biology
  • Insect Science


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