Hypnotised Lizards

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SEVERAL communications relating to the so-called “deathfeigning instinct” of certain reptiles have appeared in the columns of NATURE during the last few months. The following observations bearing on this question may be of sufficient interest to justify publication. They refer to a species of lizard of the genus Stellio (identified in Tristram's “Fauna and Flora of Palestine” as S. cordylina), which is extremely common in these parts. When one of these lizards is captured, it makes a few vigorous efforts to escape, and then, if held firmly, falls into a limp, motionless state, which might easily lead an, inexperienced person to think it dead. A very little examination, however, shows that the animal is not dead, but in a trance-like condition. Gentle respiratory movements are visible just behind the shoulders, and sometimes show a rising and falling rhythm with short intervals of complete rest; the eyes may remain wide open, but are commonly half-closed, and the lids wink slowly from time to time spontaneously or by reflex action; the mouth is almost always open—sometimes wide, sometimes but little—and in either case the jaw is quite rigid, and if closed by force is apt to reopen when the pressure is withdrawn; the limbs lie extended and semi-flaccid, with some approach to a cataleptic condition, i.e. if bent, or stretched into positions not too strained, they maintain such positions when let go; and the same is true of the trunk and tail. If, now, the lizard be laid down gently on the floor or on a table, it will lie perfectly still and seemingly unconscious for some minutes (unless roused by a sudden jar or loud noise), the eyes preserving throughout a peculiarly vacant, expressionless; aspect, quite suggestive of death. While in this state the lizard maybe put into a variety of positions without eliciting any sign of consciousness, and will lie as quietly on its hack as in the natural position; and I have without difficulty made one maintain various grotesque postures, such as standing erect with one hand resting on the edge of a book, like a preacher behind a pulpit; bending sharply around, and seizing the tail with the claws of one fore-foot; cocking the tail over the back, scorpion fashion, &c.

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VAN DYCK, W. Hypnotised Lizards. Nature 52, 148 (1895) doi:10.1038/052148a0

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