from the world's big
Lizards develop new chemical language to attract mates in predator-free environments
Researchers decoded the love signals of lizards "spoken" through chemical signals.
- Scientists discovered that lizards developed novel chemical communication signals when relocated to tiny island groups with no predators.
- Male lizards began to rapidly produce a new chemical love elixir, not unlike cologne, to call on potential mates.
- With new technology we're increasingly able to detect and identify the chemicals that make up much of the language of non-human nature.
Most of our understanding of animal communication has come through observations of auditory and visual symbol, such as the guttural caws of a raven or the shifting color scheme on the skin of the chameleon. But the real Rosetta Stone for translating the language of nonhuman nature might be through chemical signals.
As scientists develop and utilize new technology that can detect on and decode these chemical dialects, we are just beginning to better understand what certain creatures are really saying to each other. Most recently, researchers discovered that lizards developed novel chemical communication signals when relocated to tiny island groups with no predators around. Specifically, male lizards began to rapidly produce a new chemical "come-hither" elixir to call on potential mates.
Discovery of lizard love language dialects
Agios Artemios was one of the islets that a lizard group was relocated to.
Photo Credit: Colin Donihue
Researchers from Washington University in St. Louis relocated 12 female and eight male Aegean wall lizards from a single source lizard population in Greece to five tiny islands with no predators. Under these happy conditions, the lizard population proliferated and competed aggressively—evidenced by bite scars—for resources. Researchers tagged each individual lizard so that they could be identified and checked up on over the course of four years.
As the scientists made visits back to the lizard populations to note how they and their offspring were doing, they made a exciting discovery. On each of the islands, the male lizards had made new chemical cocktails different from the chemical secretions of the lizards in the original source population. The changes had happened rapidly, becoming evident to the scientists after just four generations.
Could this be evidence that male lizards spruce themselves up with new, au naturale "cologne" when in new ecological settings? The researchers think so, pointing out that having no predators around likely made all the difference.
"Signals to attract mates are often conspicuous to predators," said Simon Baeckens, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Antwerp in Belgium and co-author of the new paper, in a university news release. "As such, sexual signals present a compromise between attractiveness and avoidance of detection. However, on these islets, there is no constraint on the evolution of highly conspicuous and attractive signals."
In other words, with no snakes or other predators to clue in on their prey's potent chemical secretions, the male lizards could let loose on their love signals without worry.
"In the experimental islands, we found that the 'signal richness' of the lizard secretions is the highest—meaning that the number of different compounds that we could detect in the secretion is the highest," Baeckens added.
Though the researchers are still working to decode the signals, they note that previous research suggests that this more elaborate signal may advertise high "male quality" and possibly immune function to both lure females and tell other males to scram.
"Lizards deposit their chemical messages encoded in secretions from specialized glands located on their inner thighs," reported Talia Ogliore for Washington University. "The secretions are a waxy cocktail of lipid compounds that contains detailed information about the individual lizard that produced them."
Lizards are able to collect those chemical messages from their environment by rapidly flickering out their slim, nimble tongues. They process those cues via a sensory organ in the roof of their mouths.
Most chemical signals between animals fall out of the parameter of human perception, and are therefore more complex to examine. So when studying animal communicative signals, studies have typically prioritized sound and sight.
But chemical "language" is the oldest and most widely used communication mode in nonhuman nature. Life spanning from bacteria to plants to beavers all communicate through this medium. So research like this new paper on lizard love signals represents a valuable opportunity for deciphering ways that animals communicate and perceive the world around them.
"What we've discovered is that within species there is important variation in chemical signals depending on your context: Who's trying to eat you, who wants to mate with you and who you're trying to compete with," said Colin Donihue, a postdoctoral fellow in biology in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis and lead author of the new study.
Donihue also pointed out that nonhuman species have spent more than a billion years developing complex chemical languages. Only relatively recently have humans been able to decipher those methods of communication.
"With new technology though we're increasingly able to detect and identify these chemical compounds and this is leading to exciting new possibilities for understanding how species interact and evolve," Donihue told Big Think. "As these chemical assays become more common, cheaper, and easier to conduct, I think we're going to find that there are chemical communicators in the plant and animal world that are every bit as exotic and impressive as the bright feathers or intricate birdsongs that are currently the subject of so much research."
This is likely just the beginning for gaining understanding as to what nonhuman beings, like lizards, are saying to one another right under our noses.This research was published on April 21 in the Journal of Animal Ecology.
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Innovation in manufacturing has crawled since the 1950s. That's about to speed up.
Here's why you might eat greenhouse gases in the future.
- The company's protein powder, "Solein," is similar in form and taste to wheat flour.
- Based on a concept developed by NASA, the product has wide potential as a carbon-neutral source of protein.
- The man-made "meat" industry just got even more interesting.
Seriously sustainable<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xOTk0MDIzNS9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyMjM4NTMzMX0.BCEfYnn6C3z1zUHIS38xOWjXktgamNBi5iyqklSMYK8/img.png?width=980" id="ea524" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="50533380eeb18eb5833b6b6aa3abec38" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Image source: Solar Foods<p>Solar Foods makes Solein by extracting CO₂ from air using <a href="https://www.fastcompany.com/90356326/we-have-the-tech-to-suck-co2-from-the-air-but-can-it-suck-enough-to-make-a-difference" target="_blank">carbon-capture technology</a>, and then combines it with water, nutrients and vitamins, using 100 percent renewable solar energy from partner <a href="https://www.fortum.com" target="_blank">Fortum</a> to promote a natural fermentation process similar to the one that produces yeast and lactic acid bacteria.</p><p>When the company claims its single-celled protein is "free from agricultural limitations," they're not kidding. Being produced indoors means Solar Foods is not dependent on arable land, water (i.e., rain), or favorable weather.</p><p>The company is already working with the European Space Agency to develop foods for off-planet production and consumption. (The idea for Solein actually began at NASA.) They also see potential in bringing protein production to areas whose climate or ground conditions make conventional agriculture impossible.</p><p>And let's not forget all those <a href="https://www.bk.com/menu-item/impossible-whopper" target="_blank">beef-free burgers</a> based on pea and soy proteins currently gaining popularity. The environmental challenge of scaling up the supply of those plants to meet their high demand may provide an opening for the completely renewable Solein — the company could provide companies that produce animal-free "meats," such as <a href="https://www.beyondmeat.com/products/" target="_blank">Beyond Meat</a> and <a href="https://impossiblefoods.com" target="_blank">Impossible Foods</a>, a way to further reduce their environmental impact.</p>
The larger promise<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xOTk0MDI0MS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1NjU4MTg2OX0.7dZZYT5WEV_EupBuLVFwHynarTiz8RYR9aJtC6Ts2C4/img.jpg?width=980" id="3415d" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="2e6eebe06d795f844752f9e9d30040d7" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Image source: Solar Foods<p>The impact of the beef — and for that matter, poultry, pork, and fish — industries on our planet is widely recognized as one of the main drivers behind climate change, pollution, habitat loss, and antibiotic-resistant illness. From the cutting down of rainforests for cattle-grazing land, to runoff from factory farming of livestock and plants, to the disruption of the marine food chain, to the overuse of antibiotics in food animals, it's been disastrous.</p><p>The advent of a promising source of protein derived from two of the most renewable things we have, CO₂ and sunlight, <a href="https://solarfoods.fi/environmental-impact/" target="_blank">gets us out of the planet-destruction business</a> at the same time as it offers the promise of a stable, long-term solution to one of the world's most fundamental nutritional needs.</p>
Solar Foods' timetable<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xOTk0MTEzMS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTU5OTU1OTMwMn0.wnXh56iO_77x2XKV2uIPf78BKw4AJLUpmiyq_JBVGvo/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=172%2C146%2C62%2C135&height=700" id="0297c" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="125c9a98ec818f5c241fa28ef1423e67" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Image source: Lubsan / Shutterstock / Big Think<p>While company plans are always moderated by unforeseen events — including the availability of sufficient funding — Solar Foods plans a global commercial rollout for Solein in 2021 and to be producing two million meals annually, with a revenue of $800 million to $1.2 billion by 2023. By 2050, they hope to be providing sustenance to 9 billion people as part of a $500 billion protein market.</p><p>The project began in 2018, and this year, they anticipate achieving three things: Launching Solein (check), beginning the approval process certifying its safety as a Novel Food in the EU, and publishing plans for a 1,000-metric ton-per-year factory capable of producing 500 million meals annually.</p>
The protein powder Solein. Image source: SOLAR FOODS
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