Modern tropical forests harbor an enormous diversity of squamates, but fossilization in such environments is uncommon and little is known about tropical lizard assemblages of the Mesozoic. We report the oldest lizard assemblage preserved in amber, providing insight into the poorly preserved but potentially diverse mid-Cretaceous paleotropics. Twelve specimens from the Albian-Cenomanian boundary of Myanmar (99 Ma) preserve fine details of soft tissue and osteology, and high-resolution x-ray computed tomography permits detailed comparisons to extant and extinct lizards. The extraordinary preservation allows several specimens to be confidently assigned to groups including stem Gekkota and stem Chamaleonidae. Other taxa are assignable to crown clades on the basis of similar traits. The detailed preservation of osteological and soft tissue characters in these specimens may facilitate their precise phylogenetic placement, making them useful calibration points for molecular divergence time estimates and potential keys for resolving conflicts in higher-order squamate relationships.
Lepidosauria (lizards, snakes, tuatara) is a globally distributed and ecologically important group of over 9,000 reptile species. The earliest fossil records are currently restricted to the Late Triassic and often dated to 227 million years ago (Mya). As these early records include taxa that are relatively derived in their morphology (e.g. Brachyrhinodon), an earlier unknown history of Lepidosauria is implied. However, molecular age estimates for Lepidosauria have been problematic; dates for the most recent common ancestor of all lepidosaurs range between approximately 226 and 289 Mya whereas estimates for crown-group Squamata (lizards and snakes) vary more dramatically: 179 to 294 Mya. This uncertainty restricts inferences regarding the patterns of diversification and evolution of Lepidosauria as a whole.
Somatic growth patterns represent a major component of organismal fitness and may vary among sexes and populations due to genetic and environmental processes leading to profound differences in life-history and demography. This study considered the ontogenic, sex-specific and spatial dynamics of somatic growth patterns in ten populations of the world’s largest lizard the Komodo dragon (Varanus komodoensis). The growth of 400 individual Komodo dragons was measured in a capture-mark-recapture study at ten sites on four islands in eastern Indonesia, from 2002 to 2010. Generalized Additive Mixed Models (GAMMs) and information-theoretic methods were used to examine how growth rates varied with size, age and sex, and across and within islands in relation to site-specific prey availability, lizard population density and inbreeding coefficients. Growth trajectories differed significantly with size and between sexes, indicating different energy allocation tactics and overall costs associated with reproduction. This leads to disparities in maximum body sizes and longevity. Spatial variation in growth was strongly supported by a curvilinear density-dependent growth model with highest growth rates occurring at intermediate population densities. Sex-specific trade-offs in growth underpin key differences in Komodo dragon life-history including evidence for high costs of reproduction in females. Further, inverse density-dependent growth may have profound effects on individual and population level processes that influence the demography of this species.
BACKGROUND: Information on the age structure within populations of an endangered species can facilitate effective management. The Blue Mountains Water Skink (Eulamprus leuraensis) is a viviparous scincid lizard that is restricted to < 40 isolated montane swamps in south-eastern Australia. We used skeletochronology of phalanges (corroborated by mark-recapture data) to estimate ages of 222 individuals from 13 populations. RESULTS: These lizards grow rapidly, from neonatal size (30 mm snout-vent length) to adult size (about 70 mm SVL) within two to three years. Fecundity is low (mean 2.9 offspring per litter) and is affected by maternal body length and age. Offspring quality may decline with maternal age, based upon captive-born neonates (older females gave birth to slower offspring). In contrast to its broadly sympatric (and abundant) congener E. tympanum, E. leuraensis is short-lived (maximum 6 years, vs 15 years for E. tympanum). Litter size and offspring size are similar in the two species, but female E. leuraensis reproduce annually whereas many E. tympanum produce litters biennially. Thus, a low survival rate (rather than delayed maturation or low annual fecundity) is the key reason why E. leuraensis is endangered. Our 13 populations exhibited similar growth rates and population age structures despite substantial variation in elevation, geographic location and swamp size. However, larger populations (based on a genetic estimate of effective population size) contained older lizards, and thus a wider variance in ages. CONCLUSION: Our study suggests that low adult survival rates, as well as specialisation on a rare and fragmented habitat type (montane swamps) contribute to the endangered status of the Blue Mountains Water Skink.
Ovarian tumors in reptiles are uncommonly reported in the literature and for green iguanas previously reported cases include teratomas, one adenocarcinoma and one papillary cystadenocarcinoma. The present report is the first of a malignant ovarian teratoma in a green iguana. Complete and detailed pathological features, differential diagnosis and surgical management of malignant ovarian teratoma are discussed in this paper.
Flying lizards of the genus Draco are renowned for their gliding ability, using an aerofoil formed by winglike patagial membranes and supported by elongated thoracic ribs. It remains unknown, however, how these lizards manoeuvre during flight. Here, I present the results of a study on the aerial behaviour of Dussumier’s Flying Lizard (Draco dussumieri) and show that Draco attaches the forelimbs to the leading edge of the patagium while airborne, forming a hitherto unknown type of composite wing. The attachment of the forelimbs to the patagium suggests that that aerofoil is controlled through movements of the forelimbs. One major advantage for the lizards is that the forelimbs retain their complete range of movement and functionality for climbing and running when not used as a part of the wing. These findings not only shed a new light on the flight of Draco but also have implications for the interpretation of gliding performance in fossil species.
Lizards are evolutionarily the most closely related vertebrates to humans that can lose and regrow an entire appendage. Regeneration in lizards involves differential expression of hundreds of genes that regulate wound healing, musculoskeletal development, hormonal response, and embryonic morphogenesis. While microRNAs are able to regulate large groups of genes, their role in lizard regeneration has not been investigated.
- Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
- Published 6 months ago
Rapid adaptive changes can result from the drastic alterations humans impose on ecosystems. For example, flooding large areas for hydroelectric dams converts mountaintops into islands and leaves surviving populations in a new environment. We report differences in morphology and diet of the termite-eating gecko Gymnodactylus amarali between five such newly created islands and five nearby mainland sites located in the Brazilian Cerrado, a biodiversity hotspot. Mean prey size and dietary prey-size breadth were larger on islands than mainlands, expected because four larger lizard species that also consume termites, but presumably prefer larger prey, went extinct on the islands. In addition, island populations had larger heads relative to their body length than mainland populations; larger heads are more suited to the larger prey taken, and disproportionately larger heads allow that functional advantage without an increase in energetic requirements resulting from larger body size. Parallel morphological evolution is strongly suggested, because there are indications that, before flooding, relative head size did not differ between future island and future mainland sites. Females and males showed the same trend of relatively larger heads on islands, so the difference between island and mainland sites is unlikely to be due to greater male-male competition for mates on islands. We thus discovered a very fast (at most 15 y) case of independent parallel adaptive change in response to catastrophic human disturbance.
Lizards are remarkable amongst amniotes, for they display a unique mosaic of reproduction modes ranging from egg-laying to live-bearing. Within this patchwork, geckoes are believed to represent the only group to ever have produced fully calcified rigid-shelled eggs, contrasting with the ubiquitous parchment shelled-eggs observed in other lineages. However, this hypothesis relies only on observations of modern taxa and fossilised gecko-like eggshells which have never been found in association with any embryonic or parental remains. We report here the first attested fossil eggs of lizards from the Early Cretaceous of Thailand, combining hard eggshells with exquisitely preserved embryos of anguimoph (e.g. Komodo dragons, mosasaurs). These fossils shed light on an apparently rare reproduction strategy of squamates, demonstrate that the evolution of rigid-shelled eggs are not an exclusive specialization of geckoes, and suggest a high plasticity in the reproductive organs mineralizing eggshells.
In many animals, behaviours such as territoriality, mate guarding, navigation and food acquisition rely heavily on spatial memory abilities; this has been demonstrated in diverse taxa, from invertebrates to mammals. However, spatial memory ability in squamate reptiles has been seen as possible, at best, or non-existent, at worst. Of the few previous studies testing for spatial memory in squamates, some have found no evidence of spatial memory while two studies have found evidence of spatial memory in snakes, but have been criticized based on methodological issues. We used the Barnes maze, a common paradigm to test spatial memory abilities in mammals, to test for spatial memory abilities in the side-blotched lizard (Uta stansburiana). We found the existence of spatial memory in this species using this spatial task. Thus, our study supports the existence of spatial memory in this squamate reptile species and seeks to parsimoniously align this species with the diverse taxa that demonstrate spatial memory ability.