Cloacal evaporative cooling: A previously undescribed means of increasing evaporative water loss at higher temperatures in a desert ectotherm, the Gila monster Heloderma suspectum

Dale Denardo, Tricia E. Zubal, Ty C M Hoffman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

24 Scopus citations


The Gila monster Heloderma suspectum is an active forager in an environment that, at times, can be extremely hot and arid. Thus, Gila monsters face extreme thermostatic and hydrostatic demands. For a desert ectotherm routinely risking dehydration, evaporative water loss (EWL) is typically viewed as detrimental. Yet evaporation simultaneously dehydrates and cools an animal. We explored EWL in Gila monsters by measuring cutaneous, ventilatory and cloacal EWL at five ambient temperatures between 20.5°C and 40°C. Our results show that Gila monsters have high EWL rates relative to body mass. Cutaneous EWL underwent a consistent, temperature-dependent increase over the entire range of test temperatures (Q10=1.61, with EWL ranging from 0.378 to 0.954 mg g-1 h-1). Ventilatory EWL did not show a significant temperature-dependent response, but ranged from 0.304 to 0.663 mg g-1 h-1. Cloacal EWL was extremely low and relatively constant between 20.5°C and 35°C, but rose dramatically above 35°C (Q10 >8.3x107, from 0.0008 at 35°C to 7.30 mg g-1 h-1 at 40°C). This steep rise in cloacal EWL coincided with an increasing suppression of body temperature relative to ambient temperature. Dehydration to 80% of initial body mass led to a delay in the onset and an attenuation of the dramatic increase in cloacal EWL. These results emphasize the potential value of EWL for thermoregulation in ectotherms and demonstrate for the first tune the role of the cloaca in this process.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)945-953
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Experimental Biology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Feb 1 2004



  • Cloaca
  • Cutaneous evaporation
  • Evaporative water loss
  • Gila monster
  • Heloderma suspectum
  • Lizard
  • Reptile
  • Temperature
  • Ventilatory evaporation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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

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