An Adaptive Difference in the Relationship between Foraging Mode and Responses to Prey Chemicals in two Congeneric Scincid Lizards


Corresponding author: William E. Cooper, Department of Biology, Indiana University-Purdue University at Fort Wayne, Fort Wayne, IN 46805, USA. E-mail:


Sensory abilities must allow efficient detection of prey, but the senses used and their relative importance may vary with hunting methods. In lizards, ambush foragers locate prey visually and active foragers use a combination of vision and vomerolfaction, the chemical sense associated with the vomeronasal system. Active foragers, but not ambush foragers, discriminate between prey chemicals and other chemical stimuli sampled by tongue-flicking. In active foragers, features of the tongue that may improve chemical sampling, such as elongation and forking are more pronounced and density of vomeronasal chemoreceptors is greater, than in ambush foragers. Foraging mode is fixed in most lizard families, and correlated evolution has been demonstrated among foraging mode, discrimination of prey chemicals, and lingual-vomeronasal morphology by interfamilial comparisons. Here I present information on a rare case of an intrageneric difference in foraging mode in the genus Mabuya. Laboratory experiments on the discrimination of prey chemicals showed that the active forager M. striata sparsa exhibits prey chemical discrimination, but the ambush forager M. acutilabris does not. The active forager also has a slightly more elongated tongue with deeper notching at the tip than the ambush forager, which might be a response to a change in foraging behavior or a reflection of unrelated differences in head shape. These findings confirm predictions based on correlated evolution between the hunting method and use of the chemical sense to locate food. They further show that chemosensory behavior is adjusted to change in foraging mode more rapidly than was previously known and suggest that behavioral changes may occur more rapidly than associated modifications of chemosensory morphology.