Limits Compatible With Life

There are limits both of heat and cold that a warm-blooded animal can bear, and other far wider limits that a cold-blooded animal may endure and yet live. The effect of too extreme a cold is to lessen metabolism, and hence to lessen the production of heat. Both katabolic and anabolic changes share in the depression, and though less energy is used up, still less energy is generated. This diminished metabolism tells first on the central nervous system, especially the brain and those parts concerned in consciousness. Both heart-beat and respiration-number become diminished, drowsiness supervenes, becoming steadily deeper until it passes into the sleep of death. Occasionally, however, convulsions may set in towards the end, and a death somewhat similar to that of asphyxia takes place. In some recent experiments on cats performed by Sutherland Simpson and Percy T. Herring, they found them unable to survive when the rectal temperature was reduced below 16° C. At this low temperature respiration became increasingly feeble, the heart-impulse usually continued after respiration had ceased, the beats becoming very irregular, apparently ceasing, then beginning again. Death appeared to be mainly due to asphyxia, and the only certain sign that it had taken place was the loss of knee jerks.

On the other hand, too high a temperature hurries on the metabolism of the various tissues at such a rate that their capital is soon exhausted. Blood that is too warm produces dyspnoea and soon exhausts the metabolic capital of the respiratory centre. The rate of the heart is quickened, the beats then become irregular and finally cease. The central nervous system is also profoundly affected, consciousness may be lost, and the patient falls into a comatose condition, or delirium and convulsions may set in. All these changes can be watched in any patient suffering from an acute fever. The lower limit of temperature that man can endure depends on many things, but no one can survive a temperature of 45° C. (113° F.) or above for very long. Mammalian muscle becomes rigid with heat rigor at about 50° C., and obviously should this temperature be reached the sudden rigidity of the whole body would render life impossible. H. M. Vernon has recently done work on the death temperature and paralysis temperature (temperature of heat rigor) of various animals.

He found that animals of the same class of the animal kingdom showed very similar temperature values, those from the Amphibia examined being 38.5° C., Fishes 39°, Reptilia 45°, and various Molluscs 46°. Also in the case of Pelagic animals he showed a relation between death temperature and the quantity of solid constituents of the body, Cestus having lowest death temperature and least amount of solids in its body. But in the higher animals his experiments tend to show that there is greater variation in both the chemical and physical characters of the protoplasm, and hence greater variation in the extreme temperature compatible with life.