Hot off the press! An invasive lizard species can learn from other species

Check out our new paper on social learning in the Italian wall lizard, Podarcis sicula. This work formed part of Isabel Damas’ PhD thesis, and it was a huge effort! The question of what makes an invasive species successful compared to other species, that may fail to gain a foothold in a new location, is of great conservation interest. One idea is that it may have to do, at least in part, with their smarts. Animal use social learning as a short-cut to problem solving. Why figure it out for yourself when someone else can give you the answer? Humans do this all the time. While social learning is likely rampant, we rarely consider the possibility that species might use social information from other species.

Italian wall lizard (Podarcis sicula). Photo by Luca Visentini.

Figure 1. The experimental apparatus (a) and protocol. The social treatment
(b) observed a demonstrator performing the discrimination task for 1 h, while
the individual treatment (c) observed another lizard in the absence of the
apparatus. After the opaque barrier was reinserted all observers were presented
with the task for another hour (d,e). (Online version in colour.)

Figure 2. The proportion of correct choices during the task (a).

The invasive Italian wall lizard is frequently found with other Podarcis. This sets the stage for heterospecific social learning. These (Podarcis) species are long-term residents in areas newly invaded by wall lizards. As such, they constitute an important source of information. We tested the hypothesis that Italian wall lizards are capable of learning from other species. (Podarcis bocagei in this case). And low and behold they were! Check out the figures.

Here is the abstract
Species that are able to solve novel problems through social learning from either a conspecific or a heterospecific may gain a significant advantage in new environments. We tested the ability of a highly successful invasive species, the Italian wall lizard Podarcis sicula, to solve a novel foraging task when social information was available from both a conspecific and an
unfamiliar heterospecific (Podarcis bocagei).We found that Italian wall lizards that had access to social information made fewer errors, regardless of whether the demonstrator was a conspecific or a heterospecific, compared to Italian wall lizards that individually learnt the same task. We suggest that social learning could be a previously underappreciated, advantageous
mechanism facilitating invasions.

Cite this article: Damas-Moreira I, Oliveira D, Santos JL, Riley JL, Harris DJ, Whiting MJ. 2018. Learning from others: an invasive lizard uses social information from both conspecifics and heterospecifics. Biol. Lett. 14: 20180532. http://dx.doi.org/10.1098/rsbl.2018.0532

To download the paper go here or send us an e-mail.

What tree skinks know about change: A story in colour and shape

Note from Martin Whiting: This blog posts details a chapter of Birgit Szabo’s PhD recently published in Animal Behaviour and represents an enormous amount of work. Birgit did a 9-month cognition experiment, which could be the longest lizard cognition experiment thus far conducted. (Let us know if it isn’t!) The work is in collaboration . . . → Read More: What tree skinks know about change: A story in colour and shape

Come on a tour of The Lizard Lab

This is a behind-the-scenes video tour of the lab. We will show you our research facilities, some of our study animals, and our lizard enclosures. This video was entirely put together by Cooper Van De Wal. Cooper is a student at Macquarie and volunteers in the lab. He also has his own, highly successful . . . → Read More: Come on a tour of The Lizard Lab

Tree skinks go to school: The complexities of social learning in lizards

By: Fonti Kar & Julia Riley

“Never study an animal that is smarter than you” – Dr Martin Whiting

An adult female tree skink after performing the discrimination task we used to quantify their learning ability – she successfully removed the blue lid from this dish and accessed the food reward . . . → Read More: Tree skinks go to school: The complexities of social learning in lizards

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

Animals often instinctively assess their environment, and display innate behavioural responses. For example, many newly born reptiles and fish know how to respond to predators – knowing when to “fight” and when to “flee” – right after hatching out of their eggs! Innate behavioural responses, especially in times of peril, may be the difference . . . → Read More: Up for a fight or doing a runner, for a lizard it could be in their genes

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!