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Why do common lizards lift their feet?

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GemmaJF View Drop Down
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    Posted: 26 Mar 2014 at 9:51pm
Foot lifting in common lizards is a behaviour that has intrigued me for a number of years.

The only references I ever find to lizards lifting their feet whilst basking is it is to protect them from a hot surface.

I do not believe this an explanation for what I'm observing. Every day, every lizard on the log piles goes through the ritual of foot lifting. Maybe one foot, maybe two, maybe all four (though they usually fall off the logs at this point - but obviously there is some desire to at least try!). It often occurs during the basking period, not immediately but saying in the middle of a basking period would be fairly accurate. Afterwards when they start to get mobile, they happily walk over the same surfaces with no apparent discomfort at all, or need to lift their feet.

It doesn't seem at all possible to me that the surface of a damp log is intolerably hot to the lizards, particularly seeing as they are often also pressing their bodies against it.

It occurred to me it could be a metabolic method of increasing body temperature on certain days?

Interested in any thoughts on why they do it or suggestions how I might study the behaviour and eventually understand it.

And other's observations of this behaviour too.




Edited by GemmaJF - 26 Mar 2014 at 9:52pm
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Suzy View Drop Down
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Suzy Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 26 Mar 2014 at 11:47pm
I too would doubt it is overheating - in England in March!
I wonder if blood vessels are more plentiful and nearer the surface and it is exposing the undersides of its feet to warm up more quickly as you suggest.
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will View Drop Down
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote will Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 27 Mar 2014 at 6:51am
Hi Gemma, there's a thread about this somewhere else, I think. Anyway, I reckon some (but not all) is social in nature - a gesture of supplication to a dominant individual, maybe. If you get close to a lizard and do this without scaring it away, it often ends up foot-waving at you, as if to say 'you are bigger than me, I don't think you are a predator, but you are a dominant individual'. Maybe I'm reading too much into foot-waving and I know it happens when the lizards are sometimes on their own, but I have seen it feature in social interactions, both in Zv and La. Perhaps it serves a thermoregulatory and a social purpose? No doubt Chris will have better/fuller explanations.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote GemmaJF Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 27 Mar 2014 at 8:31am
I like both the suggestions and had not thought of either.

I certainly get interactions from the lizards whilst doing the photography, they are very aware I'm there for sure, but are also on the whole amazingly tolerant. I have been wondering though if shutters going off, my movements etc did in some way modify their behaviour.

Which gives me an idea, my new canon zoom lens has arrived. I think I'll try standing off from a distance for a session or two and see if the foot lifting behaviour is less common, i.e. if my presence is partly or mainly the cause. Be interesting too to capture it in response to the presence of another lizard. 

I've a feeling that it is also in someway linked to body temperature, i.e. it occurs not at the start of a basking session, not at the end but more in the middle. This could though still be social, assuming if too cold it's just too much effort, if warm enough, fleeing is an option.

There is another behaviour I've got interested in too. Often at the end of a long basking session some of the lizards seem to become almost hyper-active. Leaping about like loonies and thrashing their bodies. It only lasts a few seconds but they appear to lose any sense of self preservation, throwing themselves off the log piles etc! Soon after they regain their composure and start actively hunting!
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote will Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 27 Mar 2014 at 10:39am
I wonder if they would respond to model lizards, if the foot waving is a social thing? like Tinbergen's models of sticklebacks...? Will be interesting to see the results of your experiment, Gemma.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote GemmaJF Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 27 Mar 2014 at 1:18pm
Now that's a thought Will, think I could make a fairly convincing model lizard and try it out.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote will Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 27 Mar 2014 at 4:06pm
...especially if it has really big feet on it!
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote GemmaJF Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 27 Mar 2014 at 5:33pm
I've ordered some stretchy rubber lizards (with big feet), going to paint them to look a little more realistic and see what happens. Fortunately I quite like things like this, if anyone has ever found them under survey felts, yes it was probably me left them, as I usually have some in my bag when I'm out and about. LOL



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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote will Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 27 Mar 2014 at 7:51pm
wow! with those colours they ought to elicit some kind of response from your lizards...   what you need is a transparent piece of thread on a fishing line so you can raise the paws from a distance.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Suzy Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 27 Mar 2014 at 8:56pm
I wonder if Amazon profile us from what we buy. What do they make of Gemma with her water pistols and rubber lizards?!
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