Recognition of reptile predator scent is innate in an endangered lizard species

Tara L. Daniell, Mark N. Hutchinson, Phil Ainsley, Michael G. Gardner

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Chemical cues can alert prey to the presence of predators before the predator is within visual proximity. Recognition of a predator's scent is therefore an important component of predator awareness. We presented predator and control scents to wild, wild-born captive, and predator-naive captive-born pygmy bluetongue lizards to determine (1) whether lizards respond to reptile chemical cues differently from controls, (2) whether captive lizards respond more strongly to a known predator than to other predatory reptiles, (3) whether captive-born lizards recognise predators innately, whether captive-born lizards have reduced predator recognition compared with wild lizards and whether time spent in captivity reduces responses to predators, and (4) whether the avoidance response to predator detection differs between naive and experienced lizards. There was no significant difference in the number of tongue flicks to predator scent among wild, wild-born and captive-born lizards, suggesting that predator detection is innate in the pygmy bluetongue lizard and time in captivity did not reduce predator recognition. The number of tongue flicks directed towards brown snake scent was significantly higher than that to the novel and water controls for all lizard origins. Lizards of all origins continued to bask in the presence of predator scents, suggesting that chemical cues alone may be insufficient to instigate an avoidance response and other cues may be required.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)76-84
Number of pages9
JournalAustralian Journal of Zoology
Issue number2
Early online date9 Jun 2021
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2021


  • behaviour
  • captive management
  • conservation
  • lizard
  • olfactory cues
  • predation
  • predator recognition
  • scent


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