Thermal Dependence of Tongue-flicking and Comments on Use of Tongue-flicking as an Index of Squamate Behavior


Department of Biology, Auburn University at Montgomery, Montgomery, Alabama 36193, U.S.A.

Department of Biology, University of California, Los Angeles, California 90024, U.S.A.


Tongue-flicking rate has often been used as a dependent variable or a component of a dependent variable taken as a measure of responsiveness to chemical stimuli by lizards and snakes. Because temperature has been controlled in most studies, effects of temperature have been largely overlooked. In this study, a constant stimulus, the adult cloacal odor of a conspecific female, was presented to adult scincid lizards (Eumeces laticeps) and temperature was from 15 ° to 35 °C. Tongue-flicking rates by adult Eumeces laticeps in response to cloacal odors of conspecific females were strongly thermally dependent in 20 s and 60 s trial periods. The tongue-flick-temperature curve appears to be roughly quadratic over the entire 15 °-35 °C range studied, with very low rates at 15 ° and 20 °C followed by a rapid rise to maximum tongue-flicking rate at 30 ° and rapid decline to 35 °C.

Presumably, similar relationships apply to other lizards and snakes with modifications related to ecological characteristics such as diel activity cycle and foraging mode, to relative position on a scale of eurythermy-stenothermy, and to taxon. Thermal response curves for other stimuli, especially prey odors, are likely to have the same basic form, but have not been determined.