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Abstract

Several species of lizards respond to chemicals from sympatric lizard-eating snakes with increased tongue-extrusion rates. These substances also elicit antipredator behavior indicating that they have important ecological functions and the resulting behavior can have serious implications for individual fitness of lizards. However, the source and type of snake chemical cues that elicit these behavioral changes in lizards have yet to be determined. We tested the ability of adult desert iguanas (Dipsosaurus dorsalis) to detect and identify a potential predator by exposing them to lipids extracted from shed snakeskins. Lipids were extracted from cast skins of a known lizard-eating snake, the California kingsnake (Lampropeltis getula californiae), using chloroform and methanol. Test subjects were presented with skin lipids as well as clean, pungent, and chloroform controls on cotton-tipped applicators in random order. Desert iguanas directed significantly more tongue extrusions toward applicators bearing snakeskin lipids when compared with controls. In addition, overall tongue-extrusion frequency increased following exposure to lipids during the 5-min trials. Desert iguanas clearly detected snakeskin lipids, but this stimulus failed to elicit changes in body posture and movement patterns previously observed in experiments using chemical cues from live snakes. Increased tongue flicking by lizards in response to snakeskin lipids may represent a generalized response to this class of chemicals. Additional potential sources of chemicals used in the detection of lizard-eating snakes are discussed.