Lizards `invest in housing`

Burrowing Skinks construct elaborate housing structures creating a veritable city.

Washington: Strange it may appear, but lizards invest in long-term habitats by building 13-metre burrows with multiple entrances and specific latrines, a new study has found.

Researchers have unearthed a community of reptilian master builders who have been found constructing elaborate housing structures underground creating a veritable city and
complex society.

The Great Desert Burrowing Skink that lives on the sandy plains of Central Australia have been discovered living in unique family groups within a labyrinth of constructed
tunnel complexes by a team led by Steve McAlpin, Paul Duckett and Adam Stow from Macquarie University.

This work carried out at Uluru Kata Tjuta National Park has revealed that these social lizards invest in a long-term housing structure that benefits them, their offspring or
siblings is unprecedented in a lizard.

The team has found that family members contribute the construction and maintenance of burrow systems that can have up to 20 entrances, extend over 13 meters, and even have their own specifically located latrines.

The faithful nature of adult pairs, which were found breed together over consecutive years, is likely to be essential for this family cohesion. From over 5000 species of
lizard worldwide no other has been found to cooperate to construct a long-term home for their family members.

The shared home can be continuously occupied for up to 7 years with multiple generations participate in construction and maintenance of burrows. DNA analysis showed that immature individuals within the same burrow were mostly full siblings,
which means offspring were therefore delaying their dispersal to stay at home.

"For adults to invest so much in a home within which kids mature, it makes evolutionary sense that these adult individuals are sure that they are providing for their own offspring," said Dr Adam Stow.

The researchers intend to do work further investigate the parental care that the great desert skink provides, the effort different individuals put into home making and
identifying lazy siblings that might be shirking their home maintenance responsibilities, and how this is managed by other group members.


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