When you tell someone that you study anoles, often one of the first questions they’ll ask is why these lizards change color. While it’s a complicated phenomenon, we do know that anole color can indicate both social dominance and stress. In a poster presented on Tuesday at SICB, Spencer Hudson, an undergraduate working with Travis Wilcoxen at Millikin University in Decatur, Illinois, considered whether habituation in green anoles can mediate the effects of social and handling stress (measured via fecal corticosterone, or CORT), and how stress is associated with color. Spencer found that in comparison to a control group, male lizards that experienced human handling and social interactions with other males had higher CORT levels, and they were more likely to turn brown during experimental trials. However, he did not find evidence that habituation lowered CORT or influenced lizard color. Spencer and his colleagues suggest that acute stress (experienced during human handling) and chronic stress (experienced over the course of the three-week experiment) may have different effects on lizard color.
Impressively, Spencer designed and conducted this experiment all within a one-semester undergraduate Animal Behavior class at Millikin!