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Lizard Mating Habits Diminish in Hot Weather

Spiny lava lizards become less picky about partners in the heat

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A recent study has found that spiny lava lizards modify their mating behavior in response to higher temperatures. Researchers were curious about how these lizards, native to South America, would cope with the heat and adjust their courtship habits. The study was led by Nicola Rossi at the National University of Córdoba in Argentina.

Spiny lava lizards typically engage in energetic behaviors like push-ups and head bobbing to attract mates. However, when exposed to warmer-than-usual temperatures, they spend less time wooing potential partners and choose their mates more hastily.

The researchers conducted their study in a nature preserve in Argentina, comparing two groups of lizards living in different areas. One group inhabits a sunny rocky outcropping, while the other group resides in a shaded zone with abundant trees. The warmer area had temperatures around 30°C (86°F), while the cooler area had temperatures around 26.5°C (80°F).

The study recorded the lizards’ movements over a period of 20 days and found that lizards in the warmer area were less active during the hottest midday hours. These lizards tended to be more active during the cooler mornings and late afternoons, potentially missing out on mating opportunities during the optimal times.

To further investigate the effects of temperature on mating behavior, the researchers brought male and female lizards into a laboratory setting. They provided the lizards with a choice between two potential mates behind a glass barrier. Some lizards were kept in their normal climate, while others were placed in environments that were 2 or 4°C warmer than usual, simulating different warming scenarios predicted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

The study found that male lizards continued to perform push-ups regardless of temperature, but their head bobbing behavior became sporadic in hotter temperatures. Some males gave up on head bobbing altogether. Additionally, male lizards sought out shady areas much more frequently in the warmest condition, reducing their interactions with females.

Female lizards of this species typically choose mates based on the males’ colorful flanks, which is a sign of sexual fitness. However, at the highest temperature, this preference diminished. Females also engaged in fewer head bobs when it was hotter.

All of these findings suggest that spiny lava lizards may not be able to adapt quickly enough to cope with the expected rate of temperature increase in the future. Daniel Ariano-Sánchez, a researcher at the University of the Valley of Guatemala who was not involved in the study, explains that lizards, being ectothermic or “cold-blooded,” are particularly vulnerable to extreme temperature changes that exceed their physiological limits.

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