Climate Change Could Make Bearded Dragons Dumb, Say Scientists

Hot environments are bad for lizard brains.

Last year, scientists discovered that warming oceans were making certain species of coral-residing fish worse at recognizing and hiding from danger. Their cognitive senses dulled by the change in environment. Now, researchers say lizards can be added to the list of animals who are getting dumber because of climate change.

In a paper published Wednesday in Royal Society Open, an international team of scientists explain that central bearded dragons who were incubated as eggs in warmer temperatures weren’t as smart as those incubated at colder temperatures.

In the study, seven eggs were incubated at 86 degrees and six were incubated at 80.6 degrees. After hatching, they were given a year to grow up, and then they were evaluated for their intelligence. The scientists observed that the ones who incubated in the colder environment were quicker at learning and completing a social task.

Incubation environments influenced the brains of bearded dragons.

Wikimedia Commons

In the examination period, lizards watched a video of an unknown lizard opening a sliding door in order to receive food. After watching, the lizards were placed in front of a door and tested on whether they remembered what the video lizard did to get the prize.

The lizards who incubated in the colder environment figured the puzzle out twice as fast as their counterparts, a result that the researchers write demonstrates “incubation environment can influence both brain anatomy and performance in simple operant tasks.”

The ability to learn from other lizards, the researchers say, is evidence of social-cognitive abilities. These are the highly adaptive ways animals employ short-cuts to acquire new information, and they’re used by most species in the animal kingdom. Lizards, despite the stereotype, actually are quite intelligent, and their brains are less primitive than scientists previously assumed. Previous studies have shown they have the memory capabilities necessary to figure mazes and have the capability of flexible problem-solving.

While the study may seem silly, it is actually pretty serious. Environmental changes are impacting habitats and animal worldwide, posing challenges that have the potential of decimating species. Scientists believe that the first responses animals make when posed with environmental change are altering behavior — when the world is ravaged by climate change, it’s not going to just be the lizards that become dumb.

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