The Loh Down On Science

Lizard Push-Ups

Those lizard push-ups are real attention-grabbers.

Oh lizards, can I have your attention, please?

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science.

You've contemplated a lizard, haven't you, on a lazy summer day?

Sometimes there are head movements - up down, up down. Then may come full-body, four-legged push-ups, which then go into head movements.

But why? Harvard biologists Terry Ord and Judy Stamps were so curious, they created Robo-Lizard.

It's a realistic-looking latex lizard model attached to programmable motors, which reproduce lizard push-ups and head bobs.

Ord and Stamps bolted the robots to trees in a Puerto Rican forest. As the robots performed, the scientists recorded the responses of real lizards nearby. They found that push-ups are meant to grab attention before head bobs. Like when people tap a fork against a glass, before making a toast.

The pre-announcement push-ups were particularly effective when it was dark or noisy - times when it's more difficult to get lizard attention.

Once lizard attention was secured, there were announcements, old business, and then a raffle. No. But maybe . . . their meetings are just as tedious as ours. Still reviewing the tapes.

The Loh Down on Science, online, at lohdown.org. Produced by 89.3 KPCC and the California Institute of Technology, and made possible by TIAA-CREF.

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