Smart lizards pass test for birds

July 13, 2011 at 6:46 PM

DURHAM, N.C., July 13 (UPI) -- Tropical lizards may be slow, but they're smart and can problem-solve as well as birds and mammals, Duke University researchers say.

University scientists tested Puerto Rican anoles on several cognitive tasks often given to birds and found the reptiles can both learn a task and remember it, a Duke release said Tuesday. The results contradict the long-held belief that reptiles have limited cognitive abilities and methods for finding food, the researchers said.

The lizards' success on a worm-based food test normally used on birds was "completely unexpected," Duke biologist Manuel Leal said.

The test uses a wooden block with two wells, one that was empty and one that held a worm but was covered by a cap. Four lizards, two male and two female, passed the test by either biting the cap or bumping it out of the way, Leal said. And they solved the problem in three fewer attempts than birds need to flip the correct cap and pass the test, Leal said.

Leal tested the cognition of lizards after seeing sparrows flip a cap to get a worm and wondering if reptiles could do the trick, too.

"They'd put their snout under the little plastic chip and then quickly bump it," Leal said. "They don't do this in the wild."

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