Summer heterothermy in Rafinesque’s big-eared bats (Corynorhinus rafinesquii) roosting in tree cavities in bottomland hardwood forests
In mammals, reproduction, especially for females is energetically demanding. Therefore, during the reproductive period females could potentially adjust patterns of thermoregulation and foraging in concert to minimise the energetic constraints associated with pregnancy and lactation. We assessed the influence of pregnancy, lactation, and post-lactation on torpor use and foraging behaviour by female little brown bats, Myotis lucifugus. We measured thermoregulation by recording skin temperature and foraging by tracking bats which carried temperature-sensitive radio-tags. We found that individuals, regardless of reproductive condition, used torpor, but the patterns of torpor use varied significantly between reproductive (pregnant and lactating) females and post-lactating females. As we predicted, reproductive females entered torpor for shorter bouts than post-lactating females. Although all females used torpor frequently, pregnant females spent less time in torpor, and maintained higher skin temperatures than either lactating or post-lactating females. This result suggests that delayed offspring development which has been associated with torpor use during pregnancy, may pose a higher risk to an individual’s reproductive success than reduced milk production during lactation. Conversely, foraging behaviour of radio-tagged bats did not vary with reproductive condition, suggesting that even short, shallow bouts of torpor produce substantial energy savings, likely obviating the need to spend more time foraging. Our data clearly show that torpor use and reproduction are not mutually exclusive and that torpor use (no matter how short or shallow) is an important means of balancing the costs of reproduction for M. lucifugus.