Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Animal behaviour

Learning lizards make smart moves


    Lizards have surprised researchers by demonstrating flexible problem-solving and learning skills previously seen mostly in birds and mammals. The reptiles had been thought to have rigid, stereotyped behaviour patterns and limited cognitive abilities.

    Manuel Leal and Brian Powell at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, presented six Puerto Rican Anolis evermanni lizards with two wells (pictured), one of which contained a fly larva reward and was associated with a plain blue disc. After a habituation period, the creatures were challenged to dislodge the blue disc covering the well with the reward. Four of the six lizards repeatedly solved this problem by either biting or shoving the cap aside to reveal the treat, and chose the blue disc over differently coloured discs. When the reward was placed under a new disc colour, two lizards were able to reverse their choice.

    Such behavioural flexibility may have enabled Anolis lizards to radiate across the tropics of the Americas, and suggests that scientists should rethink their ideas on reptile cognition.

    Credit: M. LEAL

    Biol. Lett. doi:10.1098/rsbl.2011.0480 (2011)

    Rights and permissions

    Reprints and Permissions

    About this article

    Cite this article

    Learning lizards make smart moves. Nature 475, 268 (2011).

    Download citation


    By submitting a comment you agree to abide by our Terms and Community Guidelines. If you find something abusive or that does not comply with our terms or guidelines please flag it as inappropriate.


    Quick links

    Nature Briefing

    Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

    Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing