View Full Version : A Lizard That Builds With the Family in Mind


din
05-17-2011, 02:54 AM
http://graphics8.nytimes.com/images/2011/05/17/science/17oblizardspan/17oblizardspan-articleLarge.jpg Adam Stow
The great desert skink creates and maintains tunneled compounds.

By NICHOLAS BAKALAR

Published: May 16, 2011



Recommend
Twitter
Sign In to E-Mail
Print (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/17/science/17oblizard.html?ref=science&pagewanted=print)
Reprints (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/17/science/17oblizard.html?ref=science#)
Share (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/17/science/17oblizard.html?ref=science#)

http://graphics8.nytimes.com/adx/images/ADS/26/16/ad.261629/sf_120x60.gif (http://www.nytimes.com/adx/bin/adx_click.html?type=goto&opzn&page=www.nytimes.com/yr/mo/day/science&pos=Frame4A&sn2=113f6237/87dccffd&sn1=2707892b/83736939&camp=foxsearch2011_emailtools_1629901c_nyt5&ad=sf_120x60_mar29&goto=http%3A%2F%2Fwww%2Efoxsearchlight%2Ecom%2Fsno wflowerandthesecretfan)



Many animals build houses for their offspring, but no one thought lizards were among them. Now researchers have found that great desert skinks, lizards that live only in northern Australia, build and maintain elaborate tunneled homes, where they live in cooperative multigenerational family groups.

Related



Observatory: Hard-Working Whiskers Are a Yardstick for Seals (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/17/science/17obseals.html?ref=science) (May 17, 2011)
Observatory: Polite Guests, Ants Pick Host Trees Out of a Crowd (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/17/science/17obants.html?ref=science) (May 17, 2011)
More Observatory Columns (http://www.nytimes.com/top/news/science/columns/observatory/index.html)


RSS Feed

http://graphics8.nytimes.com/images/global/icons/rss.gif Get Science News From The New York Times » (http://www.nytimes.com/services/xml/rss/nyt/Science.xml)



The lizards, whose scientific name is Liopholis kintorei, build structures that are more or less permanent addresses, with about 6 percent of the tunnels becoming disused each year. Females tend to stay at home — only one was found in a burrow system different from her offspring’s, and genetic analysis showed that about 60 percent of males are faithful spouses. Parents were captured in or near burrows where their offspring lived. The children hang around home, too — most burrow systems contain only full siblings of different ages.
The large amount of energy expended to build and maintain the structures suggests that the behavior has great survival value, and the researchers, writing in PLoS One (http://dx.plos.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0019041), suggest that such conscientious parental care provides an evolutionary fitness advantage. So far as is known, the elaborate home construction is unique among lizards, a group that contains at least 5,000 species.
Adam Stow, an author of the study and a senior lecturer in biology at Macquarie University in North Ryde, Australia, said that very few other lizard species form family groups, and that those few live in rock crevices that require no maintenance.
The habits of the great desert skink were certainly known to residents of the arid Central Australia region of the Northern Territory, but they had not been described scientifically. “It’s such a remote part of Australia,” Dr. Stow said, “that few people go out there.”


A version of this article appeared in print on May 17, 2011, on page D3 of the New York edition with the headline: A Lizard That Builds With the Family in Mind.