Research finds that lizards are fast learners

Oct 17, 2012

(Phys.org)—An Australian lizard, the Eastern Water Skink, has dispelled a long held myth that reptiles are slow learners. Researchers studying the lizard have found they do have the ability for rapid and flexible learning, challenging previous work that has suggested reptiles are less cognitively sophisticated than other vertebrates.

"Previous studies have reported that lizards require dozens of trials before learning a relatively simple spatial task if they learn at all. We found this wasn't the case," says lead researcher Daniel Noble, Macquarie University.

The breakthrough to this research was testing the lizards in an environment that more closely mimics their natural conditions. The lizards were given , which required them to learn the location of safe refuges. Under these conditions approximately one third of the skinks were able to learn both a spatial learning and spatial reversal task within a little over a week.

An animal's ability to act on information from its surroundings and to change what they learn has a strong bearing on its survival. In the case of a lizard, learning the location of safe refuges in their environment could mean the difference between life and death.

"The idea that lizards and have poor has been spurred in part by the use of ecologically irrelevant tasks. We observed flexible spatial learning in water skinks by testing them under a biologically meaningful context and in semi-natural conditions. This learning may have been fast because of the diversity of available cues lizards could use to make associations with particular refuges. In contrast, are often only interested in a subset of these cues, which may inhibit lizards from learning quickly " says Noble.

Though further research is needed to understand the precise mechanisms responsible for spatial learning in these reptiles, it is clear that lizards can learn a task quickly if it has important bearing on fitness.

"Our results make a lot of sense because are often faced with predatory threats in the wild where they are required to escape to a refuge to avoid being eaten. This requires the knowledge of the spatial locations of refuges within their environment and to be able to flexibly adjust the use of the refuges depending on whatever contingencies arise " says Noble.

Explore further: Orchid named after UC Riverside researcher

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Hotter homes produce smarter babies

Jan 12, 2012

(PhysOrg.com) -- A hotter home appears to produce babies with better cognitive abilities - but before you turn up the home heater to make your baby brainier, the research was conducted on the Australian lizard ...

Brainy lizards pass test for birds

Jul 13, 2011

Tropical lizards may be slow. But they aren't dumb. They can do problem-solving tasks just as well as birds and mammals, a new study shows.

Lizards pull a wheelie

Jun 13, 2008

Why bother running on hind legs when the four you've been given work perfectly well? This is the question that puzzles Christofer Clemente. For birds and primates, there's a perfectly good answer: birds have converted their ...

Genealogy of scaly reptiles is rewritten

Nov 23, 2005

Penn State scientists have completed the most comprehensive analysis ever of genetic relationships among snakes, lizards, and other scaly reptiles.

Thailand seizes 2,000 monitor lizards

Apr 08, 2011

Thailand said on Friday it had made its largest-ever seizure of monitor lizards after finding more than 2,000 of the reptiles being smuggled in a convoy of pick-up trucks heading for the capital.

Recommended for you

Orchid named after UC Riverside researcher

16 hours ago

One day about eight years ago, Katia Silvera, a postdoctoral scholar at the University of California, Riverside, and her father were on a field trip in a mountainous area in central Panama when they stumbled ...

In sex-reversed cave insects, females have the penises

18 hours ago

Researchers reporting in the Cell Press journal Current Biology on April 17 have discovered little-known cave insects with rather novel sex lives. The Brazilian insects, which represent four distinct but re ...

Fear of the cuckoo mafia

18 hours ago

If a restaurant owner fails to pay the protection money demanded of him, he can expect his premises to be trashed. Warnings like these are seldom required, however, as fear of the consequences is enough to ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Scientists tether lionfish to Cayman reefs

Research done by U.S. scientists in the Cayman Islands suggests that native predators can be trained to gobble up invasive lionfish that colonize regional reefs and voraciously prey on juvenile marine creatures.

Deadly human pathogen Cryptococcus fully sequenced

Within each strand of DNA lies the blueprint for building an organism, along with the keys to its evolution and survival. These genetic instructions can give valuable insight into why pathogens like Cryptococcus ne ...

Biologists help solve fungi mysteries

(Phys.org) —A new genetic analysis revealing the previously unknown biodiversity and distribution of thousands of fungi in North America might also reveal a previously underappreciated contributor to climate ...

Leeches help save woman's ear after pit bull mauling

(HealthDay)—A pit bull attack in July 2013 left a 19-year-old woman with her left ear ripped from her head, leaving an open wound. After preserving the ear, the surgical team started with a reconnection ...

Venture investments jump to $9.5B in 1Q

Funding for U.S. startup companies soared 57 percent in the first quarter to a level not seen since 2001, as venture capitalists piled more money into an increasing number of deals, according to a report due out Friday.