The use of scats as social signals in a solitary, endangered scincid lizard, Tiliqua adelaidensis

Aaron Fenner, Christopher Bull

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    17 Citations (Scopus)


    Context: The deliberate accumulation of faeces or scats in one location is a common behaviour used for social signalling. The endangered pygmy bluetongue lizard, Tiliqua adelaidensis, is a solitary-living species that appears to use scats as social signals. Previous studies have found that these lizards approach burrows more cautiously if there is a conspecific scat present and behave differently to scats from male and female conspecifics, indicating that these lizards can recognise scat-based conspecific cues. For endangered species, understanding how an animal uses and responds to chemical cues has the potential to become a powerful tool in conservation management. Aims To investigate whether these solitary lizards might be using scats as social signals by testing whether scats were being deposited in a non-random pattern designed to maximise their exposure to the nearest neighbour conspecifics. Method In the present study, we investigated the spatial pattern of scatting behaviour by pygmy bluetongue lizards in the field. Results Scats were consistently deposited in one direction that was significantly aligned with the nearest occupied burrow of a neighbouring lizard. The same deposition sites were used when previous scats were either destroyed by rain, or experimentally moved to a different location. Male lizards deposited scats significantly closer to their own burrows when neighbours were closer. Key conclusions The results were consistent with the lizards using scats to advertise their presence and status. The scat-deposition patterns observed in the present study suggest that scats are used as an olfactory signal associated with social organisation of pygmy bluetongue lizards. Implications Current plans for the conservation management of this endangered species include translocations. By understanding how these lizards respond to, and use chemical cues, we may be able to use this knowledge to aid in translocation programs, e.g. by pre-establishing territories for individuals before they are introduced into the population.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)582-587
    Number of pages6
    JournalWildlife Research
    Issue number7
    Publication statusPublished - 2010


    • dear enemy
    • pygmy bluetongue lizard
    • recognition
    • scat piles
    • social organisation.


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