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ScienceShot: A Lizard's Leap

Anyone who's tried to catch a lizard knows that you usually end up in an undignified sprawl on the ground. How do lizards get the jump on us? Researchers examined Florida scrub lizards (Sceloporus woodi) in their initial movements from a standing start. Two high-speed video cameras captured the reptiles in their first five steps after they were startled with a loud handclap. White dots painted on the reptiles' hind limb joints allowed the scientists to digitally track their movements using computer software. They found that the lizards' limb motions were very different from one stride to the next. A scrub lizard's first stride was a jumping motion—similar to explosive jumping in frogs. They continued to accelerate through the second stride, but by the third stride, their limbs looked more like those of other lizards running at near top speed. In their analysis of individual strides, researchers found that the ankle and toes seemed to be important predictors of acceleration. A finer breakdown of movement may be a better way of understanding abrupt motions like the lizard's standing start.

*This item has been corrected. The ankles and toes are important predictors of acceleration, not the knees.

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