ScienceShot: Lizards Lounge in Their Labyrinthine Lairs

The great desert skink is the homebody of the lizard world. The Australian reptiles (Liopholis kintorei) dig elaborate burrows, which, scientists have now discovered, shelter closely related family members and can be occupied for up to seven consecutive years. These complex tunnel networks, which measure up to 13 meters across, feature multiple entrances and designated outside latrine areas where the lizards go to defecate. By trapping lizards and snipping off a tiny portion of their tails for DNA analysis, researchers found that adult desert skinks live in the same burrow with multiple generations of their children. Both parents and siblings pitch in to build and maintain their home, the team reports online today in the journal PLoS One. Although many species of birds and mammals exhibit such cooperative behavior, this is the first report of lizards constructing a family house. Desert skinks are fairly faithful lovers, which could help explain why families stick together. The finding may bolster the hypothesis that cooperation evolved in groups of genetically related individuals.

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