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Lizard Personality Varies With the Neighborhood

Nov 03, 2014 03:40 PM EST

Humans act differently from place to place. In the United States for instance, New Yorkers can be fast-talking and abrasive, Minnesotans are often described as stoic, and Californians just want to have a good time. Now it has been revealed that lizards can be the same way, with members of the same species acting remarkably different depending on where they live.

A study recently published in the scientific journal Evolution details how Erhard's wall lizards (Podarcis erhardii) can be found all over Greece's Cyclades Islands. Amazingly, depending on which island you find these little speckled lizard, their "personalities" can distinctly vary.

According to study author Kinsey Brock, at the University of Michigan, isolated islands like the Cyclades, which vary in size and local species, can serve as the perfect natural laboratories for studying species behavior.

Some of the islands, for instance, are large enough to boast relatively large predators, like feral cats. On these islands the lizards have learned to be shy and cautious. However, on the particularly small islands, wall lizards of the exact same size, shape and color can be stunningly bold, not even afraid of approaching humans.

And that's exactly how Brock set out to assess each island's lizards. She slowly walked straight towards more than 900 individual lizards, living on 37 islands and the Greek mainland. She made sure her appearance and speed was the same with each approach. The average lizard ran from her when she got within a little under six feet away (1.8 m), but some lizards let her come as close as four inches (10 cm). Others fled from her on sight, nearly 30 feet away.

Predictably, there was a strong correlation with how skittish these lizards were and where they hailed from.

And this is not an isolated occurrence. The behavioral "personality" of organisms - even those with tiny brains - has been observed in more than just lizards. Sharks, fish, and even ants have been shown to have different personalities depending on where they are and who their neighbors are, showing that personality has a lot to do with survival and adaptation in the wild.

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