Up for a fight or doing a runner, for a lizard it could be in their genes

Hot off the press: our new paper just out in Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology reports on a link between relatedness in Eastern Water Dragons and their anti-predator behaviour–whether or not they decide to fight or flee from a predator. We  found that larger hatchling lizards were more likely to flee while smaller ones were more likely to fight. Interestingly, both body size and antipredator behavior were more similar between clutch-mates (siblings), suggesting that both of these traits are heritable and may have a family origin.

This study involved collected hundreds of water dragon eggs from across Sydney and incubating them in the lab. After they hatched, I simulated an ‘attack’ using a 1-m long rubber model of a Red-bellied Blacksnake, and recorded how the lizards responded to this threat immediately after hatching; armed with nothing more than their DNA and the instinctive behavior pre-programmed within it.

 
 
 
Here is the significance statement from our paper, which nicely sums up the study and our findings:

The action an animal takes in response to a predator is a life or death decision, and can be required immediately after birth. These innate antipredator behaviours may be genetically linked, and enable individuals to emerge into their environment with the necessary behaviour to promote survival.We examined what factors drive hatchling lizards to exhibit different innate antipredator behaviour. Our study found that body size affected their innate behaviour: larger hatchlings were more prone to flee and smaller hatchlings were more likely to fight. Interestingly, parental genetics and phenotype (clutch effects) also significantly explained the variation in innate antipredator behaviour, which supports the hypothesis that these behaviours are heritable. Understanding what drives variation is a cornerstone of evolutionary biology, and our findings raise questions about how selection acts on antipredator behaviour and the degree to which they are plastic.

Read a copy of the paper here.

Baxter-Gilbert, J., Riley, J. L., & Whiting, M. J. (2018). Runners and fighters: clutch effects and body size drive innate antipredator behaviour in hatchling lizards. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, 72(6), 97.

The Bluetongue interviews

There was some interest in our recent paper on bluetongue lizards (blueys) and why they have this amazing blue tongue, which is actually a UV-blue tongue. (See our previous blog post.)

Here is an interview from ABC news:

Helen Shield interviews Martin Whiting on ABC radio, Hobart (nation wide). 11 June 2018. http://whitinglab.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/ABC_radio_11.6.2018-1.mp3

. . . → Read More: The Bluetongue interviews

Why blue tongue? A potential deimatic display has been uncovered in blue-tongue skinks

An enduring question among fans of blue-tongue lizards is why the blue tongue? Why have such an outrageously coloured tongue, given that the vast majority of lizards have a regular old pink tongue? Blueys (bluetongue skinks) are something of an Australian icon. They are part of Australian folklore and most Australians have encountered them . . . → Read More: Why blue tongue? A potential deimatic display has been uncovered in blue-tongue skinks

Dispatches from the field: new adventures with endangered crocodile lizards and oriental garden lizards

It’s been a very busy year, which explains why I am only now writing this blog post from my trip to China earlier this year (May-June). I had the amazing opportunity of seeing one of the world’s most endangered lizards—the crocodile lizard (Shinisaurus crocodilurus), in the wild, and working with one of the largest . . . → Read More: Dispatches from the field: new adventures with endangered crocodile lizards and oriental garden lizards

Turn up the colour: male frogs use bright colours to avoid confusion at the pond

Imagine being a frog during the chaos of the breeding season and navigating the gathering crowds around the pond. How do you know who might be a suitable mate let alone whether they are male or female? One solution is colour. If one sex, typically males, is able to turn on some bright colour . . . → Read More: Turn up the colour: male frogs use bright colours to avoid confusion at the pond

Brains and Brawn: dominant lizards are better learners too!

Note: this blog post is republished from Fonti’s web site

Dominant individuals tend to have greater monopoly over food and mates and therefore have more offspring compared to subordinate individuals. Are these successes attributed to greater cognitive ability? Or are dominant individuals just better at freeloading from their clever subordinate counterparts?

We investigated . . . → Read More: Brains and Brawn: dominant lizards are better learners too!

PhD opportunity – visual ecology of lizards

We are looking for a highly motivated and suitably qualified candidate to conduct a PhD program of research on reptile visual ecology, commencing in 2017.

The successful applicant will be guided to develop a project to investigate the visual performance and ecological adaptations of a range of lizard species with differing life history traits. . . . → Read More: PhD opportunity – visual ecology of lizards

Hot off the press! Roommates are not all they’re cracked up to be (if you’re a lizard)

Recently, myself and collaborators published our study that found – social experience has a crucial role in development of a family-living lizard. We also discovered that despite their social nature, the Australian tree skink (Egernia striolata) does not necessarily thrive in a ‘share-house’ environment.

Egernia striolata from Gluepot, South Australia

Group- and family-living . . . → Read More: Hot off the press! Roommates are not all they’re cracked up to be (if you’re a lizard)

Hot off the press! Toads at the invasion front are more prone to explore and take risks

By Jodie Gruber

The cane toad (Rhinella marina) has been spreading rapidly across northern Australia since its introduction to control sugar cane beetles in 1935. While toads have been the focus of considerable research, we still have a poor understanding of how behavioiural traits vary across the range, particularly with respect to traits that . . . → Read More: Hot off the press! Toads at the invasion front are more prone to explore and take risks

Julia Riley interviewed on ABC radio!

Take a listen to Julia Riley discussing our latest publication on the influence of social environment on learning in tree skinks (Egernia striolata). The interview was with Marc Fennell on ABC radio.

This work, led by Julia, has been published in Animal Cognition:

Riley, JL., Noble, DWA., Byrne, RW., Whiting, MJ. 2016. Does social . . . → Read More: Julia Riley interviewed on ABC radio!