For the first time ever, scientists discover a lizard breathing underwater

Nature

Well, 2018 is almost at an end, and just when you think things can’t get any stranger, we now have the first footage of a lizard breathing underwater.

No, not a salamander or newt, an actual land-dwelling lizard, Anolis oxylophus.

These incredible creatures are a type of small lizard called river anoles, and while scientists knew they could disappear underwater for up to 15 minutes at a time, they’d always assumed they were just really good at holding their breath.

But now footage suggests they are able to store oxygen and then breathe it while they’re underwater, behaviour that has never been documented or even seen in lizards before.

The phenomenon was caught on film in Costa Rica by biologists and filmmakers Neil Losin and Nate Dappen, who were filming Laws of the Lizard for the Smithsonian Channel.

You can see a teaser of the footage in the trailer below around the 1:44 mark. It’s pretty breathtaking, no pun intended.

“We saw this re-breathing behaviour that hadn’t been documented or described before,” Losin told Mindy Weisberger over at Live Science.

In their footage, they saw a female anole sit at the bottom of a river for almost 10 minutes, not holding her breath, but with a tiny bubble of air expanding and contracting at the top of her head.

To be clear, this behaviour now needs to be studied further so scientists can figure out exactly what’s going on and publish the results in a peer-reviewed journal.

But while researchers are still studying exactly how this happens, they think it’s similar to the way a human diver breathes in air from an oxygen tank. 

There are other animals known to exhibit similar behaviour – such as diving bell spiders – but this is the first documented example of land vertebrates doing the same thing.

It’s a reminder that we have a lot left to learn about nature.

“I would love for people to come away from the film seeing that even the most seemingly mundane creatures in their backyards can be fonts of scientific knowledge — if someone just takes the time to look,” Losin told Live Science.

Laws of the Lizard premiers on 26 December 2018. Find out more and how to watch from your location here.

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