Growth and behavior of thyroid-deficient lizards (Sceloporus undulatus)

Robert W. Gerwien, Henry B. John-Alder

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23 Scopus citations


This study investigates thyroid control of growth and energy metabolism plus growth-dependent and growth-independent behavioral effects of thyroid manipulation in lizards. Experiments were done on surgically thyroidectomized (Tx) and sham-operated (Sh) year-ling Sceloporus undulatus enclosed in their natural habitat. Lizards were placed in an outdoor enclosure in early August. Growth rate was measured and behavior was observed until mid-October. Subsequently, lizards were returned to the lab for measurements of plasma thyroxine (T4), standard metabolic rate (SMR), and running endurance. Thyroidectomy reduced plasma T4 from 4.3±0.56 ng/ml to undetectable levels (P = 0.006) and SMR by 44% (P < 0.0001). Thyroid deficiency produced a threefold reduction in growth rate (Tx: 0.04±0.010 mm/day, n = 12 vs Sh: 0.11 ± 0.006 mm/day, n = 11, P <0.0001). Growth rate was correlated with SMR among individuals (length-specific: r = 0.55, P = 0.027, n = 16), even after statistical removal of mass and treatment effects. The total volume of oxygen consumed for standard metabolism during the growth period, as estimated from allometric equations, was correlated with cumulative growth (R2 = 0.94, P = 0.013) and was significantly lower for thyroid-deficient lizards than for controls (P < 0.0001). Distance moved in the field and running endurance on a treadmill both scaled on body mass (M0.98 ± 0.418, P = 0.030 and M1.72 ± 0.763, P = 0.040, respectively), indicating that larger lizards moved farther and had greater stamina than their smaller counterparts. Neither of these behavioral factors was affected directly by thyroid status. Thyroid-deficient lizards were active for a smaller percentage of the day than controls (Tx: 42.6 ± 5.7%, n = 11 vs Sh: 57.4 ± 3.2%, n = 12, P = 0.040), independent of differences in body size. On an interindividual basis, the frequency of activity was significantly correlated with SMR (r = 0.57, P = 0.020, n = 16) and growth rate (mass-specific: r = 0.47, P = 0.025, n = 23).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)312-324
Number of pages13
JournalGeneral and Comparative Endocrinology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Aug 1992

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Endocrinology


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