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What Is a Thermoregulator?

Humans can regulate their body temperature by sweating or shivering.
Cold-blooded animals like reptiles must use external influences to heat and cool themselves.
Frogs have different thermoregulatory mechanisms than humans.
Article Details
  • Written By: E.A. Sanker
  • Edited By: John Allen
  • Last Modified Date: 12 August 2014
  • Copyright Protected:
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    Conjecture Corporation
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A thermoregulator is any device, artificial or natural, that controls the temperature within a system. Scientific laboratories use instruments called thermoregulators to maintain the temperature of a water bath when heating or cooling chemical solutions. Other types of thermoregulators are used in agriculture and aquaculture to control temperature for the benefit of live animals. Living organisms also use natural thermoregulators to control body temperature.

It is often important in industrial and scientific laboratories to maintain a chemical solution at a certain temperature so that a reaction or process can be carried out. One way to achieve this is to immerse the solution container in a water bath. Heat or cold from the surrounding water alters the temperature inside the container without coming into direct contact with the solution, providing a gentle and effective means of regulating that solution’s temperature from the outside.

A laboratory thermoregulator keeps the temperature of the water bath constant by heating or cooling water, which is then circulated through the bath by a pump mechanism. The thermoregulator is usually clipped to the bath in such a way that it is partially immersed, to allow for the correct functioning of both the circulator and the electronic components. Manufacturers offer these devices in a variety of sizes, designs, and temperature ranges for different needs. A typical scientific thermoregulator might be able to maintain temperatures anywhere from -40°F (-40°C) to 248°F (120°C).

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Thermoregulators can also be useful in other applications. Aquariums, for example, must be maintained at a certain temperature for fish to thrive; often this temperature is higher than ambient, as in the case of tropical fish. Special thermoregulatory devices are sold for aquarium use. Agricultural settings sometimes use thermoregulators as well. Incubators for hatching chicks must be maintained at a higher-than-ambient temperature, and thermoregulators are used to ensure the correct level of heat.

Human beings and other mammals have built-in biological thermoregulators that control body temperature. The production of sweat for cooling during periods of intense heat or exercise is an example of a natural thermoregulatory process. A part of the brain called the hypothalamus gives signals that raise or lower body temperature depending on external stimuli, such as ambient heat or cold.

Cold-blooded animals, such as reptiles, do not have the same internal thermoregulatory mechanisms as humans and other mammals do. Instead of sweating or shivering in response to changes in the environment, reptiles must regulate body temperature using external means. This is why lizards spend time basking in hot sunlight — the heat of the sun acts as an external thermoregulator, allowing the animal to maintain a warm body temperature.

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