Oh, it's you
DESPITE their cold-blooded demeanour, lizards can form personal
relationships with people. A team of scientists has shown that iguanas
recognise their human handlers and greet them differently, compared with
Scott McRobert and his colleagues at Saint Joseph's University in
Philadelphia had often joked that their lab's pet iguana "Fido" would bob
his head when McRobert approached but ignore everyone else. They decided
to design an experiment to find out if Fido really did know his handler.
They also wanted to see if the twelve-year-old lizard remembered a lab
student who had cared for him four years earlier.
McRobert, the student and around forty strangers took turns reading the Dr
Seuss children's book Oh, the Places You'll Go! to Fido. They read it
aloud or silently, in front of Fido's cage or behind a screen, while
another researcher counted the iguana's head bobs.
When Fido could see the readers but not hear them, he bobbed his head
roughly equally to both the student and McRobert, but almost totally
ignored the strangers. When they read aloud, however, Fido bobbed his head
around three times as often to McRobert than to the student. "Visual cues
alone are enough for him to recognise individuals," says McRobert, but he
suspects that Fido "fine-tunes" his response with audio cues.
"I'm pretty sure that this is the first time human recognition by a lizard
has been demonstrated in a scientific way," says McRobert, who described
the study this week at a meeting of the Animal Behavior Society in
Lewisburg, Pennsylvania. He suspects Fido singles him out because iguanas
are not normally handled and see handlers as a threat: "It's not that he
loves me," McRobert says.
He plans to use recorded voices to see what Fido will do when visual and
audio cues don't match up. "We may actually learn something about how
these animals recognise individuals."
From New Scientist, 3 July 1999
© Copyright New Scientist, RBI Limited 1999
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