We review the evolutionary ecology and genetics of telomeres in taxa that cannot elevate their body temperature to a preferred level through metabolism but do so by basking or seeking out a warm environment. This group of organisms contains all living things on earth, apart from birds and mammals. One reason for our interest in this synthetic group is the argument that high, stable body temperature increases the risk of malignant tumours if long, telomerase-restored telomeres make cells 'live forever'. If this holds true, ectotherms should have significantly lower cancer frequencies. We discuss to what degree there is support for this 'anti-cancer' hypothesis in the current literature. Importantly, we suggest that ectothermic taxa, with variation in somatic telomerase expression across tissue and taxa, may hold the key to understanding ongoing selection and evolution of telomerase dynamics in the wild. We further review endotherm-specific effects of growth on telomeres, effects of autotomy ('tail dropping') on telomere attrition, and costs of maintaining sexual displays measured in telomere attrition. Finally, we cover plant ectotherm telomeres and life histories in a separate 'mini review'.