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Lizard Mothers Dress Their Progeny to Ensure Success in Later Life

A new study has found that lizard mothers dress their children in different colour patterns, which guarantees success under the conditions that the babies will face as adults .

Researchers at the University of California, Santa Cruz, have found that female side-blotched lizards are able to induce different colour patterns in their broods in response to social cues, 'dressing' their progeny in patterns they will wear for the rest of their lives.

The mother's influence gives her young ones the patterns, which are most likely to ensure victory under the circumstances they will come across as adults.

The study, published in the online early edition of the journal Ecology Letters, shows that female side-blotched lizards give an additional dose of the hormone estradiol to their eggs in certain social circumstances. The extra hormone affects the back patterns of lizards that hatch from those eggs, creating either lengthwise stripes down their backs or bars stretching from side to side. Whether they get stripes or bars depends on the genes for other traits.

'This is the first example in which exposure to the mother's hormones changes such a fundamental aspect of appearance. Even more exciting is that the mother has different patterns at her disposal, so she can ensure a good match between back patterns and other traits that her offspring possess,' said Lesley Lancaster, a UCSC graduate student and first author of the paper.

'The females are dressing their progeny for success, because they need a different back pattern in different conditions,' Sinervo said. 'It's like fashion--she wants to make the rare, fashionable progeny that won't be caught by predators,' Coauthor Barry Sinervo, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, said.

Lancaster used a combination of laboratory and field experiments to tease apart a complex set of interactions involving hormones, genetics, social interactio
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