Evolution in Action: Lizard Moving From Eggs to Live Birth
Evolution has been caught in the act, according to scientists who are decoding how a species of Australian lizard is abandoning egg-laying in favor of live birth.
Along the warm coastal lowlands of New South Wales (map), the yellow-bellied three-toed skink lays eggs to reproduce. But individuals of the same species living in the state's higher, colder mountains are almost all giving birth to live young.
Only two other modern reptiles—another skink species and a European lizard—use both types of reproduction.
Evolutionary records shows that nearly a hundred reptile lineages have independently made the transition from egg-laying to live birth in the past, and today about 20 percent of all living snakes and lizards give birth to live young only.
But modern reptiles that have live young provide only a single snapshot on a long evolutionary time line, said study co-author James Stewart, a biologist at East Tennessee State University. The dual behavior of the yellow-bellied three-toed skink therefore offers scientists a rare opportunity.
"By studying differences among populations that are in different stages of this process, you can begin to put together what looks like the transition from one [birth style] to the other."