Lying Lizards

Anole Carolinensis photo R Colin Blenis

On my morning walk, I often meet others and we exchange pleasantries, well, usually. Young people, younger than their mid-twenties that is, are often reluctant to take on the responsibility of offering an opinion on the quality of the morning.
So it is with many other animal species, the younger members of which are circumspect and signal their position in the social order. Often, unlike with us humans, it is important that their communications are honest just in case they get called out. Of course it is always a temptation to maximize the assets, but do those communications stay honest?

O’Connor in the current issue of the Journal of Experimental Biology (1) reviews a study by Lailvaux et al in which they put this to the test (2). They start with the suspicion that everything may not always be what it seems if one party or another is under stress.

Their species of choice was lizards – green anole lizards in particular. These are not very vocal and rely on the size of a brightly colored dewlap to signal that they are the kid on the block, best stud in town and have a bite that will beat all comers.

The team from New Orleans brought up two groups of lizards from babies. One group were pampered, had the best of everything like good 1-percenters, whilst the other group had a harder time, being kept on short rations and expected to know their place. The expected result was that the 1-percenters would be fitter, have stronger bites and more impressive dewlaps, which would keep the hoi pollio in their place.

The result? The lizards that were short changed did end up with weaker bites as they weren’t as fit, but they put their efforts into large fancy dewlaps and turned into lying lizards who were attempting to con their way to the top and strut the stage like a winner.

It is interesting to watch the TV shows and note that we have much in common with our quieter friends of the lizard persuasion.

  2. S.P. Lailvaux, R.L. Gilbert & J.R. Edwards, Proc. Roy. Soc B (2011), DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2011.2577

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