Wild Lizards Care What You're Wearing

Bad news, pals: Your mom isn't the only one judging your outfit. A recent study published in the journal PLOS One finds that wild animals—in this case, lizards—respond differently to humans depending on the color of their clothes.

It makes perfect sense, if you think about it. Animals rely on their color vision to find food, evade predators, and seduce their mates. From a survival standpoint, color is information, no matter who's wearing it.

Previous studies have found that some bird species with orange or red feathers are less afraid of people wearing orange and red. Would other brightly colored animals have a similar response?

To find out, evolutionary biologist Breanna Putman considered a lizard. The western fence lizard makes its home in the desert climes of the western United States. Both sexes are brown or black, but the males have vibrant blue patches on their bellies and throats, and some have shiny blue spots on their backs. When challenged, males do little push-ups to flex their blue scales and make them look even more impressive. Blue, then, was the color to beat.

Putnam headed out to two lizard hotspots, one at a public park in Los Angeles and another at a nearby nature reserve. The bird studies had only compared people wearing orange and red with people wearing dark gray, which means it's possible that the birds would have responded well to any bright color. So Putnam brought along four t-shirts: one each in dark blue, light blue, bright red, and gray. The dark blue shirt was a pretty close match to the color of the male lizards' macho patches.

For each trial, Putnam put on a shirt, then tried to approach a lizard. At first, she merely walked casually toward them. After a few weeks of this, she switched and began trying to catch them. For every approach, she measured how close the lizard let her get, and how quickly and how far it ran away.

Sure enough, the dark-blue shirt seemed to put the lizards at ease, or at least more at ease than the rest of her wardrobe. While Putnam wore their favorite color, the lizards let her get twice as close (39 inches vs. 78 inches) than they did with other colors. They also didn't try very hard to escape. In red, light blue, or gray, Putnam caught her quarry 40 percent of the time. In dark blue, that number went up to 84 percent.

The findings are a good reminder to all animal researchers, Putnam said in a statement. "What we wear can have indirect effects on animals through changes in their behavior."

Is There An International Standard Governing Scientific Naming Conventions?

iStock/Grafissimo
iStock/Grafissimo

Jelle Zijlstra:

There are lots of different systems of scientific names with different conventions or rules governing them: chemicals, genes, stars, archeological cultures, and so on. But the one I'm familiar with is the naming system for animals.

The modern naming system for animals derives from the works of the 18th-century Swedish naturalist Carl von Linné (Latinized to Carolus Linnaeus). Linnaeus introduced the system of binominal nomenclature, where animals have names composed of two parts, like Homo sapiens. Linnaeus wrote in Latin and most his names were of Latin origin, although a few were derived from Greek, like Rhinoceros for rhinos, or from other languages, like Sus babyrussa for the babirusa (from Malay).

Other people also started using Linnaeus's system, and a system of rules was developed and eventually codified into what is now called the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature (ICZN). In this case, therefore, there is indeed an international standard governing naming conventions. However, it does not put very strict requirements on the derivation of names: they are merely required to be in the Latin alphabet.

In practice a lot of well-known scientific names are derived from Greek. This is especially true for genus names: Tyrannosaurus, Macropus (kangaroos), Drosophila (fruit flies), Caenorhabditis (nematode worms), Peromyscus (deermice), and so on. Species names are more likely to be derived from Latin (e.g., T. rex, C. elegans, P. maniculatus, but Drosophila melanogaster is Greek again).

One interesting pattern I've noticed in mammals is that even when Linnaeus named the first genus in a group by a Latin name, usually most later names for related genera use Greek roots instead. For example, Linnaeus gave the name Mus to mice, and that is still the genus name for the house mouse, but most related genera use compounds of the Greek-derived root -mys (from μῦς), which also means "mouse." Similarly, bats for Linnaeus were Vespertilio, but there are many more compounds of the Greek root -nycteris (νυκτερίς); pigs are Sus, but compounds usually use Greek -choerus (χοῖρος) or -hys/-hyus (ὗς); weasels are Mustela but compounds usually use -gale or -galea (γαλέη); horses are Equus but compounds use -hippus (ἵππος).

This post originally appeared on Quora. Click here to view.

A Rare Blue Lobster Ended Up in a Cape Cod Restaurant

Richard wood, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
Richard wood, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Lobsters have precious few defenses when it comes to being tossed in a vat of boiling water or on a grill and turned into dinner. They have not yet evolved into not being delicious. But sometimes, one lucky lobster can defy the odds and escape their sentence by virtue of a genetic defect that turns them blue.

According to MassLive, one such lobster has been given a reprieve at Arnold's Lobster & Clam Bar in Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Named "Baby Blue," the crustacean arrived at the restaurant from the Atlantic and was immediately singled out for its distinctive appearance.

Blue lobsters are a statistical abnormality. It's estimated only one in every two million carry the defect that creates an excessive amount of protein that results in the color. A lobsterman named Wayne Nickerson caught one in Cape Cod in 2016. He also reported catching one in 1990. Greg Ward of Rye, New Hampshire caught one near the New Hampshire and Maine border in 2017.

Lobsters can show up in a variety of colors, including orange, yellow, a mixture of orange and black, white, and even take on a two-toned appearance, with the colors split down the middle. Blue is the most common, relatively speaking. A white (albino) specimen happens in only one out of 100 million lobsters. The majority have shells with yellow, blue, and red layers and appear brown until cooked, at which point the proteins in the shell fall off to reveal the red coloring.

It's an unofficial tradition that blue lobsters aren't served up to curious customers. Instead, they're typically donated to local aquariums. Nathan Nickerson, owner Arnold's, said he plans on doing the same.

[h/t MassLive]

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