Another Unexpected Effect Climate Change: Dumber Bearded Dragons?

Fagjun | Published 2017-11-30 20:13

Scientists say that rising temperatures may make bearded dragons grow up to be less intelligent than their predecessors.

A bearded dragon showing off its beard.



There are certain things about climate change that are easy to predict. For example, rising temperatures and sea levels are a given. It’s also easy to predict that climate change will keep affecting living things around the globe in one way or another. However, there are other things that we won’t necessarily see coming, or that we won’t immediately associate with climate change, at least until they’ve been studied and analyzed. The effects of climate change on the intelligence of bearded dragons is one such example.


According to a new study, the expected temperature increase associated with climate change may impact the intelligence of bearded dragons, which have turned out to not be as, well, dumb as originally thought. However, rising temperatures may negatively affect their brains.

Incubation Temperature

Bearded dragon eggs in an incubator [Photo via Bearded Dragon Care]



Bearded dragons have become popular as pets in recent years. Though they certainly don’t seem to be as responsive--or smart--as more “traditional” pets like dogs, studies have shown that bearded dragons are actually quite intelligent. A few years ago, animal cognition expert Anna Wilkinson found that bearded dragons are able to learn new behaviors by imitating each other--an ability that was thought to only belong to primates.


Animal brains in general develop during gestation. Thus, the brains of reptiles are likely to experience the long-term impacts of the conditions that their eggs are kept in. These impacts are what Wilkinson and her colleagues want to analyze.


The researchers split a clutch of 13 bearded dragon eggs into two groups--one with seven eggs and the other with six. The group with seven eggs was placed in an incubator with a temperature of 30 degrees Celsius. Meanwhile, the other group was placed in an incubator with a temperature of 27 degrees Celsius.


The bearded dragons in both groups were kept in the same temperatures until they were mature. At the first year’s mark, the researchers tested the dragons’ ability to learn new behaviors by showing them a video of a bearded dragon opening a sliding door, behind which a piece of food was waiting.

Reptiles and Climate Change

What does a future of rising temperatures hold for bearded dragons and other reptiles?



Previous tests have shown that while opening a sliding door may seem like an easy trick, bearded dragons only learn it if they watch another bearded dragon do it. Thus, the researchers surmised, if the bearded dragons were able to open a sliding door, it meant that they were able to learn from the video.


After 10 rounds of tests, the researchers found that the bearded dragons who grew up in warmer conditions were a bit less able to perform the trick. While this doesn’t sound like much of a difference, the researchers also found that even when the dragons raised in warmer temperatures succeeded, they took a minute and a half longer to do so. Thus, it’s possible that warmer temperatures may impede the dragons’ ability to learn new behaviors.


As of now, however, it’s unclear exactly how higher temperatures affect brain development in bearded dragons. Still, even if higher temperatures turn out to have little to no effect on brain development, they will still impact reptiles as a whole. Research shows that a fifth of reptile species face extinction by 2080 due to climate change, which is a much bigger risk than being a little intellectually slower.

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