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Press Release 09-244

Looks Can Be Deceiving

Lizards acquire the same camouflaging adaptation in different ways

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Illustration showing convergent evolution in lizards to lighter color.

The whiptail and fence lizards are dark-colored on dark soil, however when found on white sand, they exhibit a light skin color that helps protect them from predators. It is a case of convergent evolution involving the same Mc1r gene coding for color. In the dark ancestral lizards, the gene codes for Mc1-receptors that help cells called melanocytes make the melanin that makes the animal dark. In the white-sand-dwelling fence lizard, one copy of the mutation is sufficient to cause fewer Mc1-receptors to integrate into cell membranes, therefore resulting in a lighter color. In the whiptail lizards, the mutation is recessive and requires two copies of the gene. This combination does not affect the number of receptors integrated into cell membranes, but adversely affects their ability to transmit signal--arriving at the same result on the macro level: a lighter lizard.

Credit: Zina Deretsky, National Science Foundation


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Photo of light and dark lizards that exhibit rapid adaptation to White Sands, New Mexico.

Lizard species that exhibit rapid adaptation to White Sands, New Mexico.

Credit: Erica Bree Rosenblum, University of Idaho


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Photo of White Sands, New Mexico.

The gypsum sand dunes of White Sands, New Mexico are a dramatic landscape and a unique environment to observe "evolution in action".

Credit: Erica Bree Rosenblum, University of Idaho


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