The severity, duration and amplitude of extreme weather events are forecast to intensify with current climate trends, over both long (e.g. seasonal) and short (e.g. daily) time-scales. As such, the predictability of food supplies for many small endotherms is likely to become increasingly important. Numerous small mammals and birds combat food shortages using torpor, a controlled reduction in metabolic rate and body temperature that helps lower their daily energy requirements. As such, torpor often has been cited as a key feature allowing some small endotherms to survive highly unpredictable climates, such as tropics or dry deserts, but mensurative demonstrations of this are lacking. We have shown here that when a small desert marsupial, the fat-tailed dunnart (Sminthopsis crassicaudata), is offered unpredictable levels of daily food, they increase frequency of daily torpor and length of bouts compared with animals offered ad libitum food, but this was not found for animals offered a 70% food-restricted diet. Our data suggest that simple food restriction may not be sufficient for evaluating the efficacy of torpor as a strategy for managing unpredictable climates.