Lizard learning ability not affected by home environment

January 3, 2017, Macquarie University
Credit: Julia Riley

In a first-of-its-kind study, researchers have found that the learning ability of a social, family-oriented lizard, the Australian tree skink, is not affected by the environment they were raised in.

Previous behavioural studies have shown that for social animals, such as humans, rats and chickens, being removed from during early negatively affects development – in particular, it hinders learning ability.

In their study, the researchers, Julia Riley and Associate Professor Martin Whiting from the Department of Biological Sciences, presented each lizard with a complex spatial maze – each lizard had to navigate a set of five ladders and three ledges to access a food reward.

In results published in Animal Cognition, the researchers found almost the exact same number of skinks – whether raised alone or with other skinks – were able to learn the complex task and appeared to be unaffected by their early social environment.

"Because these are social, we predicted that skinks raised in social isolation would have reduced learning ability compared to skinks raised socially. However, this is not the case. These lizards were able to learn to navigate this complex spatial maze whether they lived by themselves or with a 'roommate,'" said Riley.

"These are unexpected results. Despite being family-oriented, the Australian Tree Skink's learning ability is not linked to growing up with others. This unique study looking at how social factors affect development in less-obviously , for the first time in a reptile, increases our understanding of the consequences of being social across diverse social systems."

Australian tree skinks (Egernia striolata) are a common lizard found throughout southeastern Australia. In the wild, these lizards are often found in family groups – most often parents and offspring are found together.

However, each lizard varies in sociability – there are both loners and social butterflies and their variable social nature make the Australian tree skink an ideal species to study how a social environment can affect their behaviour during development.

"Tree skinks naturally vary in their individual personalities or need for social contact, so growing up alone may be a normal option in the wild and is less stressful for them. Alternatively, the presence of a parent while growing up may be what affects development of tree skink ," said Associate Professor Whiting.

Explore further: Personality and sex explain learning ability in a lizard

More information: Julia L. Riley et al. Does social environment influence learning ability in a family-living lizard?, Animal Cognition (2016). DOI: 10.1007/s10071-016-1068-0

Related Stories

Personality and sex explain learning ability in a lizard

March 12, 2014

( —Researchers have discovered that the sex and personality of lizards can influence their learning ability, with males faring better than females in spatial learning, and bold or conversely shy personalities faring ...

Research finds that lizards are fast learners

October 17, 2012

(—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, ...

New lizard named after Sir David Attenborough

August 3, 2015

A research team led by Dr Martin Whiting from the Department of Biological Sciences recently discovered a beautifully coloured new species of flat lizard, which they have named Platysaurus attenboroughi, after Sir David Attenborough.

Hatchling lizards are smarter than you think

October 21, 2013

( —A collaborative research team from Macquarie University and Sydney University have discovered that young (hatchling) lizards are capable of learning complex tasks, particularly if they hatched from eggs incubated ...

Why are some groups of animals so diverse?

September 19, 2007

A new study of finger-sized Australian lizards sheds light on one of the most striking yet largely unexplained patterns in nature: why is it that some groups of animals have evolved into hundreds, even thousands of species, ...

Recommended for you

Coffee-based colloids for direct solar absorption

March 22, 2019

Solar energy is one of the most promising resources to help reduce fossil fuel consumption and mitigate greenhouse gas emissions to power a sustainable future. Devices presently in use to convert solar energy into thermal ...

EPA adviser is promoting harmful ideas, scientists say

March 22, 2019

The Trump administration's reliance on industry-funded environmental specialists is again coming under fire, this time by researchers who say that Louis Anthony "Tony" Cox Jr., who leads a key Environmental Protection Agency ...

The taming of the light screw

March 22, 2019

DESY and MPSD scientists have created high-order harmonics from solids with controlled polarization states, taking advantage of both crystal symmetry and attosecond electronic dynamics. The newly demonstrated technique might ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

not rated yet Jan 03, 2017
This Article could be titled a little better, for example "First of its kind Study breaks ground for Lizard social cognition." Where the title above tends to imply a conclusion that isn't there.

I do a bit of Gardening and see oddities here and there. One of the most odd was the social behavior of mud wasps. They are typically asocial, labeled as a social, but in my garden the insect will sleep near each other at night. Like 20 of them, and some seem to test the plant they choose to sleep on for scents of predators. I also seen this night social behavior with some flies as well. My question would be, are these truely social lizards, or is the 'socialness' of the Lizards sort of an illusion. I read those wasps where asocial, solitary, but I seen and photographed at night those wasps being highly social by sleeping in large groups together. Caterpillars will stick together from time to time. This research is great, because it makes me question how do I define social in mathematics.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.