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Lizard smarts: baby blue-tongues born clever

By David, 18 July 2019 News

A small blue tongue lizard on a person's hand.

This baby blue tongue lizard is just as smart as an adult!
Image: Alex Clarke

Have you ever looked through your old school books? You might be surprised at how many mistakes you used to make, or the things you didn’t understand. Human brains take decades to fully develop, but eastern blue-tongue lizards might be born as clever as their adult counterparts.

For these animals it’s a matter of survival. Blue-tongue lizard parents don’t hang around. Young lizards fend for themselves, which means they must learn fast.

Baby blue-tongues have no one to teach them how to sun themselves, how to find food, or how to avoid predators. And baby lizards are a tasty snack for all kinds of animals from cats to kookaburras.

So how smart are baby blue-tongues? A team of Australian and Scottish scientists ran an experiment to find out.

First, the researchers collected a whole bunch of eastern blue-tongues to test. The adults were all at least two years old, and the babies were between 23 and 56 days old. Then they ran the lizards through a series of intelligence tests.

The tests were simple in human terms, recognising different symbols on cards or noticing background colours. Over seven rounds, the scientists found that the baby lizards were just as smart as adults.

Don’t get too excited about genius baby blue-tongues. Neither group did particularly well, and around 75% of the animals were eventually eliminated from the experiment as ‘non-learners’. Of course, that might not be the lizards’ fault. After all, wild lizards don’t need to be able to recognise shapes on cards!

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3 comments

  1. Hmm, well, one can question whether the intelligence tests were appropriate for the task. You could quickly show that human toddlers are equally as capable as adults at scaling a 4m sheer vertical wall. Surely the researchers were setting out to “prove” what they already knew from observation. Not convincing.

      Reply
    1. Good points!

      Yup, lizards aren’t the best at such abstract tests, but just because most of them failed at some point doesn’t mean the test was terrible.

      Most of the lizards passed the easiest trials, and the success rate and learning speed was remarkably similar between adults and kids through all seven rounds of testing.

      The researchers might also have wondered if young lizards are smarter than their parents. Apparently that can be a thing Gallus Gallus – the undomesticated chicken.

      Thanks for your comments!

      If you’re interested, the lizard paper is here:
      https://doi.org/10.1016/j.anbehav.2019.06.003
      but sadly, I think you might need to go to a University library to read it.

        Reply
  2. Excellent point

      Reply

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