Ion Chromatography (IC)

How Do Lizards Communicate? — Chromatography Investigates

Dec 13 2017 Read 1237 Times

Animals communicate with each other and between different species. And we are not just talking about teaching parrots to swear in front of your Nan. Communication can be a matter of life and death for animals in the wild as they signal danger or highlight where a source of food might be located.

And just like humans, animals can communicate using different methods too. And for some species, chemical signals are more important that just about any other method of communication — and in fact, they are now considered the oldest form of communication between animals. A recent paper in the Journal of Chromatography AFast, sensitive, and selective gas chromatography tandem mass spectrometry method for the target analysis of chemical secretions from femoral glands in lizards — has looked closely at chemical communication in lizards using the medium of chromatography.

Who is the top lizard in the lounge?

Many animals — and some plants — utilise chemicals as a means of communicating either within their species (intraspecies communication) or between different species (interspecies communication). The chemicals used to communicate are known as pheromones and they can be used for many different types of communication. When you walk the dog and it stops at every lamppost, it is sniffing out who else has been there — or, when the cat brushes its neck against a new box you have brought into the house, it is marking the box with its scent.

Territory marking, looking for a mate, danger signals or looking for family members are reasons why animals might use pheromones. And lizards are no different. Studies report lizards release pheromones from their skin and their faeces — these signals are used in recognition, choosing a mate and even in deciding who is the top lizard in the lounge — the collective noun for groups of lizards.

Femoral secretions

But one of the main ways lizards communicate is by releasing chemical signals from their femoral and precloacal glands — these are located in the lizard’s inner thigh region. Although ecologists have studied these signals for several decades, the team behind the new study wanted to develop a faster, more selective and more sensitive test for the secretions.

They turned to gas chromatography coupled to tandem triple quadrupole mass spectrometry (GC-QqQ(MS/MS) to target twelve compounds often found in lizard secretions. A discussion of ion sources for MS can be found in the article, MS Atmospheric Pressure Ionisation Sources: Their Use and Applicability.

The team report that the method developed could indeed be used to quickly identify the molecules released by lizards in communication — and in fact, the sensitivity allowed a new chemical secretion to be identified. So next time you need to know what Larry the Lizard is saying — just run your GC-QqQ(MS/MS) and all will become clear.

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