STILLWATER — Lately, Stanley Fox and his team have been putting in long days catching lizards.
Fox, an Oklahoma State University zoology professor, is part of a team of researchers looking at collared lizards, Oklahoma's state reptile. Although the team is focusing on the lizard, Fox said the study could shed light on why young male animals — including humans — act the way they do.
A team of researchers from OSU's Department of Zoology is looking at aggressive behavior among male collared lizards who haven't reached puberty. The team received a four-year, $500,000 National Science Foundation grant to study the lizard, which is also known as the mountain boomer.
During the study, the team will be working with a population of lizards living on Sooner Lake Dam, about 30 miles north of Stillwater in Pawnee County. Lately, researchers have been at the dam every day from sunup to sundown, collecting lizards, marking them, measuring them and releasing them. When mature, these lizards can be more than a foot long.
The team is looking at behavior among male hatchling lizards. The young male lizards seem to be aggressive toward other male hatchlings, but aren't as hostile toward female hatchlings, Fox said.
In particular, the researchers are looking at a set of orange stripes that young male lizards develop on their sides.
“It's the same in humans,” Fox said. “Except for the blue and pink bows that we put in babies' hair, you can hardly tell them apart by just looking at how they act and how they look.”
Scientists aren't sure exactly what the bars of color are for, Fox said, but he thinks they could be a way for young male lizards to tell other male hatchlings apart from females.
The young male lizards also form pair bonds with young females in the same way that mating lizards might, Fox said. That's interesting, because the lizards aren't yet old enough to mate, Fox said. It's as if the male lizards are trying to get a head start on driving away other males who could be mating rivals in the future, he said.