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fourth speaker

I attended another guest lecture this evening, although this one was far outside the scope of anthropology. The speaker was Jimmy A. McGuire of UC Berkeley, presenting The Cost of Living Large: The Evolution of Gliding Performance in Flying Lizards, which included his research on the phylogenetics and gene flow of Draco species found on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi. Coming into the lecture I had stereotyped flying lizards as fairly ungraceful creatures, but in fact they're much better in the air than any other vertebrate that doesn't move through powered flight (i.e. bats and birds).

The Draco species that Dr. McGuire studied were representative of a variety of sizes, and one of the main experiments he conducted in the field involved capturing lizards, getting them to run up a 6m pole in a clearing, and filming them as they glided to a 4m pole stationed 9.3m away. Rather than jumping out and spreading their patagia (the "wings" of the lizard), every species first entered a ballistic dive - straight for the ground - before levelling off. Larger individuals require a longer dive to increase wing load before they start the main part of their glide, and one of the interesting things to hear was that smaller species can dive, glide, and brake (moving their body parallel to the landing surface to slow down and prepare for contact -- but also losing airflow in the process) while only losing 2m of altitude over the 9.3m distance travelled.

While I was a little lost during some of the talk about research methodologies (morphological and mitochondrial DNA sampling is not my cup of tea), the lecture was fairly easy to follow. I was surprised to hear some of the questions that the audience asked though, as one man kept bringing up pterosaurs and a professor at the university made the comment:

« Oh, your lizards are very special. I study aging in flying squirrels and you have a great opportunity here to look at whether flying lizards live longer than normal lizards. I bet they do. »

Whether it was intentional or not I couldn't say, but her opening sentence in particular struck me as a pretty patronizing remark -- as though reptiles could never compare to mammals, but at least the study of flying lizards was a step above the rank-and-file that one normally encounters in herpetology. Go figure.