Animal Cognition

, Volume 20, Issue 3, pp 449–458

Does social environment influence learning ability in a family-living lizard?

  • Julia L. Riley
  • Daniel W. A. Noble
  • Richard W. Byrne
  • Martin J. Whiting
Original Paper

DOI: 10.1007/s10071-016-1068-0

Cite this article as:
Riley, J.L., Noble, D.W.A., Byrne, R.W. et al. Anim Cogn (2017) 20: 449. doi:10.1007/s10071-016-1068-0


Early developmental environment can have profound effects on individual physiology, behaviour, and learning. In birds and mammals, social isolation during development is known to negatively affect learning ability; yet in other taxa, like reptiles, the effect of social isolation during development on learning ability is unknown. We investigated how social environment affects learning ability in the family-living tree skink (Egernia striolata). We hypothesized that early social environment shapes cognitive development in skinks and predicted that skinks raised in social isolation would have reduced learning ability compared to skinks raised socially. Offspring were separated at birth into two rearing treatments: (1) raised alone or (2) in a pair. After 1 year, we quantified spatial learning ability of skinks in these rearing treatments (N = 14 solitary, 14 social). We found no effect of rearing treatment on learning ability. The number of skinks to successfully learn the task, the number of trials taken to learn the task, the latency to perform the task, and the number of errors in each trial did not differ between isolated and socially reared skinks. Our results were unexpected, yet the facultative nature of this species’ social system may result in a reduced effect of social isolation on behaviour when compared to species with obligate sociality. Overall, our findings do not provide evidence that social environment affects development of spatial learning ability in this family-living lizard.


Squamate Sociality Cognition Ontogeny Facultative sociality 

Supplementary material

10071_2016_1068_MOESM1_ESM.docx (148 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 148 kb)

Supplementary material 2 (MOV 73617 kb)

Funding information

Funder NameGrant NumberFunding Note
Australian Research Council
  • DP130102998
Australasian Society for the Study of Animal Behaviour
  • NA
Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada
  • PhD scholarship
Macquarie University
  • NA
The Australian Museum

    Copyright information

    © Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2016

    Authors and Affiliations

    1. 1.Department of Biological SciencesMacquarie UniversitySydneyAustralia
    2. 2.School of Biological, Earth, and Environmental SciencesUniversity of New South WalesKensingtonAustralia
    3. 3.School of Psychology and NeuroscienceUniversity of St. AndrewsSt. AndrewsUK

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