ScienceShot: Tropical Lizards Get Brainy

Tropical lizards may have tiny brains, but they're quick learners. In a new study, researchers placed a block containing two wells, one covered by a blue disk, in front of the tropical arboreal lizard Anolis evermanni. The reptiles quickly learned that the blue disk covered a tasty fly larva, and even when the team tried to confuse them by placing a yellow disk or a blue disk with a yellow perimeter on the second, empty well, only one lizard out of four made a mistake over six trials. The lizards also needed at least three fewer practice runs to learn the task than did song sparrows and other bird species performing comparable tasks in other studies, the researchers report online today in Biology Letters. What's more, the lizards developed two strategies to dislodge the disk: They either bit the edge or used their snouts as levers. The team says this problem-solving behavior was completely unexpected because lizards have never before been observed using these strategies in the wild. The findings suggest that the lizards may be as smart as birds and some mammals—at least when it comes to snatching a snack.

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Posted in Plants & Animals