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Oxygen consumption, heat production (HP) and core temperature (T(af)) were measured over 3 h in 20-34-day-old Muscovy duck and 12-21-day-old chicken embryos at ambient temperature (T(a)) of 37.5 degrees C and thereafter for 3 h at T(a) of 39.0 degrees C. At 37.5 degrees C T(a), HP increased with age in avian embryos of both species, following an exponential function. In muscovy duck embryos, a plateau phase occurred between D29 and D32; in chicken embryos, a similar plateau occurred between D19 and D21. T(af) rose in accordance with HP, and the relationships between T(af) and HP could be described by significant linear regressions in both species. Mostly, HP increased in embryos of both species during heat load, but by less than calculated by the van't Hoff rule; however, there was often also a decrease in HP under these conditions. Obviously, in avian embryos high T(a) causes a down-regulation of HP mediated by active thermoregulatory mechanisms. This is in agreement with data describing the influence of hyperthermia on HP in the postnatal period of birds and mammals. Because of this, the term 'second chemical thermoregulation' defined by Gelineo [C. R. Soc. Biol. (1936) 122 337] for birds and mammals should also be used for avian embryos.