Bissonnette, P. B., Waterman, J. M., Petersen, S. D. 2023. The use of infrared thermography to noninvasively measure the surface temperature of polar bears during bouts of social play. Zoo Biology 42(1), 38–44.

Infrared thermography or thermal imagery is a noninvasive tool that can be used to measure the temperature of surfaces. Typically, thermal imagery is used for construction or military purposes but is increasingly used as a noninvasive tool in wildlife studies. We investigated the use of thermal imagery to measure surface temperature changes as a proxy for energetic expenditure. We measured the surface temperature of polar bear (Ursus maritimus) eyes, while immobilized, to determine whether the eye is a thermal window that can accurately indicate internal temperature. We found a significant difference (2.68 ± 0.41°C) between the surface temperature of the eye measured with thermal imagery and the internal rectal temperature. Additionally, we measured surface temperature changes in polar bears after bouts of social play as a proxy for energy expenditure. Mean temperature of the eye increased by 1.34 ± 0.43°C after social play, indicating that this activity increased energy expenditure. During the fasting season, polar bears rely on fat stores, and any energy expenditure beyond what is required to travel may be costly to their survival, particularly in years of low resource availability. We conclude that thermal imagery is a useful tool to noninvasively investigate the energetics of social play.

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