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Lizard Mothers Dress Their Progeny to Ensure Success in Later Life

ns, behavioral strategies, and predators.

According to Lancaster, the maternal effect on back pattern is significant because continued existence in these lizards depends on different combinations of traits in different situation. Females use social cues to envisage the circumstances their progeny will encounter. Maternal influences like this probably occur in many species, but are very difficult to perceive, Sinervo said.

'Maternal effects are a nebulous thing to study, because you know there are genes for these traits, and it's really hard to tell the maternal effects apart from the effects of the genes,' he said.

Lancaster began by treating side-blotched lizard eggs with a collection of different hormones. That revealed an outstanding influence of estradiol on back patterns. She also tested eggs from lizards captured in the wild and found a wide range of naturally occurring estradiol concentrations in the egg yolks.

The researchers then performed experiments in breeding enclosures, each holding one male lizard and three females. The numbers of orange- and yellow-throated females in each enclosure were experimentally varied, and throat colors of the males varied randomly. Lancaster tested eggs from each female's clutch for hormone levels and recorded the color patterns of the progeny before releasing them into the wild to see how well they survived.

'This is a classic example of an interaction between genes and environmental influences on traits,' Lancaster said. 'Females provide an estradiol-rich prenatal environment to their entire clutch, but different progeny respond to it in different ways depending on which genes they inherit for throat color. So a female could make some progeny barred and others from the same clutch striped, depending on what's best for each individual.'

It is not yet clear why an 'orange' social environment triggers this hormonal tweaking of the eggs.

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