Saturday 14 August 2010

Lizard Behaviour

Paul and I have now owned Dooya the Eublepharis macularis for just over two months, and she seems a very happy little gecko indeed. We are concerned by the recent campaign by Lush to ban the keeping of reptiles as pets: while there are undoubtedly isolated incidents of negligent practice within the reptile-keeping community, it feels like a very personal attack on ALL reptile keepers, in a way that all dog-owners do not get accused of cruelty when some idiots keep their pets in rotten conditions. I can understand the case against wild-caught animals, but I also see the good that can be done from the conservation and breeding point of view.

So over the past few days Paul and I have been taking stock of Dooya's behaviour to reassure ourselves that she is not absolutely miserable, because honestly the thought that she may be thoroughly traumatised by being a pet is very upsetting. This is her setup:

She has a warm hide in the front right, thermostatted at 32°C, a cool hide in the back right, with water and calcium dishes, a cool moist hide in the back left, usually 21-24°C, feeding dish in front of that, and a rock for her to climb up in the front left of the tank. She will variously sit on any of the hides when the light goes out, but during the day she zonks out in the warm or cool hide.

There is a phenomenon referred to by the Lush-APA campaign as "interaction with transparent boundaries", about which very little information seems to be available (the link is to the text of an article from 1990). Is Dooya trying to get out? Perhaps. From watching her behaviour in and out of her tank it seems more likely that she is trying to climb up to a vantage point. She likes being on top of things, whether it's her hide or my shoulder. Most gecko owners will comment that their pets go straight for their shoulders when they're out.

Sure, she's checking for the presence of predators, and not feeling secure until she can see as much of her surroundings as possible. Our family dog Teddy would sit for hours in the front porch if he could, watching everyone and everything.

I think she can tell when this transparent boundary is present and absent, and I think she can tell from a distance. If we go and open the door to the tank, she looks up at us, and for the past few times she has climbed up the rock and stepped out onto our hand:

I would even suggest that a lizard who will crawl out onto our hands does not think we are predators and is not scared of us.

But I know very little about reptile behaviour other than what I have observed. I am fairly confident that she does not behave entirely instinctively - there is some higher thought. She has been classically conditioned to associate the yellow tweezers with feeding time, and will wag her tail and get excited when she sees them. I'd love to find out more about her anatomy and physiology, and then some of the current thought in reptile behaviour. I've had issues tracking down a good reptile anatomy textbook, so am really hoping for some recommendations.

And if you have any ideas what she's up to in the photo above, let me know. Current suggestions include auditioning for one of those shows in Tijuana, and practising to join the Bolshoi.

1 comment:

  1. She's trying to change the temperature!


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