Leggy lizards don’t survive the storm

Nobody knows exactly what happens at the eye of the storm.

But biologists at Washington University in St. Louis have published a first-of-its-kind look at the physical characteristics of lizards that seem to make the difference between life and death in a hurricane, as reported on July 25 in the journal Nature.

Hint: long, strong back legs do not help like you think they might.

The hyperactive 2017 hurricane season was one of the worst ever experienced in the Atlantic Ocean region. Damage from totals for the hurricane season topped $282 billion — the costliest on record. Hurricane Harvey hit in mid-August 2017, followed just a few weeks later by Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Maria in September. Each of these storms had winds in excess of 125 mph, with Irma up to 170 mph.

For humans, the devastation to homes and businesses was extreme. For tropical anole lizards living on the more remote cays of Turks and Caicos, there was only the ones who survived — and the ones who didn’t.

And that’s where the researchers came in, using data serendipitously collected just before the storms hit, and again weeks afterward, to demonstrate for the first time the effects of hurricane-induced natural selection.

“Hurricanes are in the news, and it seems that they’re becoming more destructive,” said Jonathan Losos, the William H. Danforth Distinguished Professor at Washington University and professor of biology in Arts & Sciences. “Something like this has never been documented before because it’s so difficult. The timing had to be just right.”

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