Is it possible that an endothermic physiology can evolve into an ectothermic (poikilothermic) physiology? I have a non-scientific gut feeling that it is irreversible. Whales and dolphins are evolved from land mammals, and they've remained warm blooded. While it doesn't give them any obvious advantage in the water, apparently they've compensated with massive amounts of body fat instead of devolving. If the ocean offers opportunity for mammals, then why haven't fish evolved to be warm blooded directly?


1 Answer 1


What do you mean by cold-blooded?

There's an issue with what you mean when saying "cold blooded". The correct words you may want to use are homeotherm, poikilothermic, ectotherm, and endotherm. In short…

Source of heat

  • endo = inside
  • exo = outside

Variance in warmth

  • Poikilo = varies
  • homeo = does not vary

Any combination of these two axes exist. For example: If the temperature in the environment never varies you can be homeotherm without needing to be endotherm. A fun example also are the large dinosaurs that are thought to be homeotherms because their metabolism produce some heat and they are so large that they remain warm thanks to this heat source. However, they were probably not able to regulate actively their temperature. Therefore, I would tend to qualify dinosaurs as homeo-exo-therm but I wouldn't be surprised if someone prefers to call large dinosaur home-endo-therm individuals. Hope that makes sense to you.

Note that the terminology might be a bit more complicated in reality as the diversity of mechanisms of body temperature regulation is important.

What did you mean in your question when talking about "cold blooded" species?

Transition from endothermy to ectotherm

Thanks to @tchrist. naked mole rat is ectotherm while its ancestors where endotherm.

  • $\begingroup$ This perfectly makes sense so far and what I tried to ask exclusively is if there is an example of a mammal that devolved to an ectotherm. But appearantly the transition that I'm looking for isn't really obvious. I would still be interested in any potential example though. $\endgroup$ Jun 26, 2014 at 20:06
  • $\begingroup$ With "cold blooded" species I meant to say ectothermic species, but I wasn't familiar with those scientific terms yet. $\endgroup$ Jun 26, 2014 at 20:14
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    $\begingroup$ @user43058 I don't think there is any ectotherm mammal. Some have important variation in temperature during hibernation though. The question of the benefits and costs of being ectotherm verus endotherm and how endothermy can evolve - is very broad. And it is a very interesting question! I encourage you to ask this question in a separate post. I had a lecture on the subject during my Bachelor degree, I personally may be able to help you on another post if I go back to this lecture. $\endgroup$
    – Remi.b
    Jun 26, 2014 at 20:28
  • $\begingroup$ The naked mole rat (Heterocephalus) has some rather odd thermoregulation characteristics for a mammal. $\endgroup$
    – tchrist
    Sep 8, 2014 at 2:22
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    $\begingroup$ @tchrist Indeed, according to wiki the naked mole rat is the only mammal ectotherm. Thanks $\endgroup$
    – Remi.b
    Sep 8, 2014 at 2:49

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