An assessment of skin temperature gradients in a tropical primate using infrared thermography and subcutaneous implants.

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Infrared thermography has become a useful tool to assess surface temperatures of animals for thermoregulatory research. However, surface temperatures are an endpoint along the body's core-shell temperature gradient. Skin and fur are the peripheral tissues most exposed to ambient thermal conditions and are known to serve as thermosensors that initiate thermoregulatory responses. Yet relatively little is known about how surface temperatures of wild mammals measured by infrared thermography relate to subcutaneous temperatures. Moreover, this relationship may differ with the degree that fur covers the body. To assess the relationship between temperatures and temperature gradients in peripheral tissues between furred and bare areas, we collected data from wild mantled howling monkeys (Alouatta palliata) in Costa Rica. We used infrared thermography to measure surface temperatures of the furred dorsum and bare facial areas of the body, recorded concurrent subcutaneous temperatures in the dorsum, and measured ambient thermal conditions via a weather station. Temperature gradients through cutaneous tissues (subcutaneous-surface temperature) and surface temperature gradients (surface-ambient temperature) were calculated. Our results indicate that there are differences in temperatures and temperature gradients in furred versus bare areas of mantled howlers. Under natural thermal conditions experienced by wild animals, the bare facial areas were warmer than temperatures in the furred dorsum, and cutaneous temperature gradients in the face were more variable than the dorsum, consistent with these bare areas acting as thermal windows. Cutaneous temperature gradients in the dorsum were more closely linked to subcutaneous temperatures, while facial temperature gradients were more heavily influenced by ambient conditions. These findings indicate that despite the insulative properties of fur, for mantled howling monkeys surface temperatures of furred areas still demonstrate a relationship with subcutaneous temperatures. Given that most mammals possess dense fur, this provides insight for using infrared imaging in thermoregulatory studies of wild animals lacking bare skin.





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Thompson, Cynthia L, Caleb Scheidel, Kenneth E Glander, Susan H Williams and Christopher J Vinyard (2017). An assessment of skin temperature gradients in a tropical primate using infrared thermography and subcutaneous implants. J Therm Biol, 63. pp. 49–57. 10.1016/j.jtherbio.2016.11.005 Retrieved from

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Kenneth Earl Glander

Professor Emeritus of Evolutionary Anthropology

Primate ecology and social organization: the interaction between feeding patterns and social structure; evolutionary development of optimal group size and composition; factors affecting short and long-term demographic changes in stable groups; primate use of regenerating forests.

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