Eggs in autumn: responses to declining incubation temperatures by the eggs of montane lizards

Richard Shine*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

31 Citations (Scopus)


Facultative hatching in response to environmental cues may increase the viability of offspring, if the cue that stimulates hatching also predicts the negative consequences of delayed emergence. Declining incubation temperatures might provide such a cue for montane lizards, because eggs that fail to hatch before winter will perish in the nest. I tested this idea by incubating eggs of an alpine scincid lizard (Bassiana duperreyi) in the laboratory. For the first half of the incubation period the eggs were kept at nest temperatures typical of those experienced in summer in the field (daily cycle of 18 ± 7.5°C). I then transferred eggs at weekly intervals into cooler regimes (either 15 ± 7.5°C; or with daytime temperatures unchanged but dropping to 0°C overnight). Contrary to prediction, the eggs did not hatch early. However, transfer to lower temperatures caused only a relatively short delay in hatching, because of a virtual temperature-independence of developmental rates late (but not early) in incubation. Decreasing incubation temperatures also modified hatchling running speeds and post-hatching growth rates, even if the thermal decrease occurred only shortly before the usual time of hatching. These processes plausibly affect hatchling fitness in cold-climate reptiles, and might be adaptations to montane habitats. Alternatively, they may prove to be widespread in other (warmer-climate) reptile taxa, in which case no adaptive hypothesis need be proposed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)71-77
Number of pages7
JournalBiological Journal of the Linnean Society
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - May 2002
Externally publishedYes


  • Bassiana duperreyi
  • Hatchling morphology
  • Locomotor performance
  • Phenotypic plasticity
  • Scincidae
  • Seasonality
  • Thermal fluctuations


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