The crested anole lizard adapts to life in the city

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Lizards that once lived in forests but now inhabit cities have genetically changed to survive city life, researchers have found.

The Puerto Rican crested anole, a brown lizard with a bright orange throat fan, has sprout special scales to better cling to smooth surfaces such as walls and windows and has evolved larger limbs for sprinting at through open areas, scientists say.

“We are watching evolution as it unfolds,” said Kristin Winchell, a New York University biology professor and lead author of the study published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

As cities expand around the world, it’s important to understand how creatures adapt and how humans can design cities to support all species, Winchell said.

The study analyzed 96 crested anole lizards (pronounced uh-NOLES or uh-NO-leez), comparing the genetic makeup of forest dwellers to those living in San Juan, Puerto Rico’s capital, as well as the northern city of Arecibo and western town of Mayaguez.

Scientists found that 33 genes in the lizard genome were repeatedly associated with urbanization, that is, when a place becomes a big city.

“You can hardly get close to a smoking gun!” said Wouter Halfwerk, an evolutionary ecologist and professor at Vrije University in Amsterdam who was not involved in the study.

Changes in these lizards, which have a lifespan of around seven years, can occur very quickly, within 30 to 80 generations, allowing them to escape predators and survive in urban areas, Winchell added. Bigger limbs, for example, help them run faster in a hot parking lot, and special ladders for clinging to much smoother surfaces than trees.

Scientists chased dozens of lizards for their study, catching them with their hands or using fishing rods with a small lasso to catch them. “It takes a bit of practice,” Winchell said. Occasionally they had to ask permission to catch lizards in people’s homes.

Among Winchell’s favorite finds was a rare albino lizard. She also found one nearly eight inches, rather large for the species, which she dubbed “Godzilla”.

The study focused on adult male lizards, so it’s unclear whether females change in the same way or at the same rate as males, and at what point in a lizard’s life the changes occur. produce.

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