Blue-tongued skinks automatically qualify as fantastic beasts thanks to their amazing bluish tongues, but a new study shows that these languages are even more interesting than they seem. The mouths of the lizards harbor one of their last and best defenses against consumption.
A team of researchers has investigated how the open jaws of the ground skink can deter predators. It may be due to the ultraviolet-reflexive nature of the tongue and how surprising it would seem to skink hunters.
They found that "the back of the tongue of the skink of the blue tongue of the north is much more intense and luminous than the UV rays of the front." The skinks, which are in Australia, are usually well camouflaged, so the use of conspicuous language marks a last survival effort.
The tongue seems especially adept at scaring the attacking birds, which (unlike humans) can see UV wavelengths. A frustrated air attack is difficult for the bird to restart. It is also believed that snakes and monitor lizards have UV vision and are among the main predators of skinks.
Researchers simulated skink attacks using fake predators to mimic a snake, a monitor, a lizard and a fox.
"Lizards restrict the use of full-language screens to the final stages of a predatory sequence when they are most at risk, and do so in concert with aggressive defensive behaviors that amplify the screen, such as whistling or inflating their bodies" Said the study's lead author Arnaud Badiane, who is investigating the evolution of ultraviolet signals in lizards.
Researchers published their findings on Thursday in the journal Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology and suggest that future studies investigate how predators respond to language visualization.
"We suspect that such a striking display deployed a short distance away from a predator will induce a startling reflexive response that will deter predators," the document says.
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