The relationship between foraging ecology and lizard chemoreception

can a snake analogue (Burton's legless lizard, Lialis burtonis) detect prey scent?

Michael Wall*, Richard Shine

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

6 Citations (Scopus)


In lizards and snakes, foraging mode (active vs. ambush) is highly correlated with the ability to detect prey chemical cues, and the way in which such cues are utilized. Ambush-foraging lizards tend not to recognize prey scent, whereas active foragers do. Prey scent often elicits strikes in actively-foraging snakes, while ambushers use it to select profitable foraging sites. We tested the influence of foraging ecology on the evolution of squamate chemoreception by gauging the response of Burton's legless lizard (Lialis burtonis Gray, Pygopodidae) to prey chemical cues. Lialis burtonis is the ecological equivalent of an ambush-foraging snake, feeding at infrequent intervals on relatively large prey, which are swallowed whole. Captive L. burtonis did not respond to prey odour in any manner: prey chemical cues did not elicit elevated tongue-flick rates or feeding strikes, nor were they utilized in the selection of ambush sites. Like other ambushing lizards, L. burtonis appears to be a visually oriented predator. In contrast, an active forager in the same family, the common scaly-foot (Pygopus lepidopodus), did tongue-flick in response to odours of its preferred prey. These results extend the correlation between lizard foraging mode and chemosensory abilities to a heretofore-unstudied family, the Pygopodidae.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)264-272
Number of pages9
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2009
Externally publishedYes

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