Hypernatraemia induced by chronic injections of sodium chloride provokes thermal depression in the agamid lizard, Ctenophorus (formerly Amphibolurus) ornatus, with a fall of two degrees Celsius in the mean body temperature selected behaviourally in a photo-thermal gradient. The placement of an electrolytic lesion in the base of the hypothalamus, designed to eliminate secretion of the neuropeptide arginine vasotocin (AVT), did not affect the lizards' thermoregulatory behaviour and their Preferred Body Temperature (PBT) was not significantly different from that of unoperated controls. Saline loading, however, did not induce thermal depression in these tract-operated individuals and their PBT was significantly higher than that of salt-loaded intact individuals. When AVT was injected into operated, salt-loaded, animals, however, thermal depression was observed, supporting the hypothesis that thermal depression brought about by hypernatraemia is mediated through the action of AVT. AVT similarly significantly depressed the PBT of injected intact individuals by 3.2 degrees C when compared with hydrated controls. Inummostaining for AVT confirmed that the lesions placed in the region of the median eminence virtually eliminated AVT located in the neurohypophysial tract, and the pars nervosa. This is the first report of an effect of this peptide on behavioural thermoregulation in a lizard. (c) 2006 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.