Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Colour-changing dragons to reveal their secrets

By Tim Thwaites

A study of why animals change colour could enable scientists to develop bandages that change colour in response to slight changes in the temperature of the wound.

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

Devi Stuart-Fox is attracted to show-offs. “I’m just really fascinated by animals with fabulous colours and ornaments.” And ever since she was a teenager living in a bushland setting in an outer Brisbane suburb, she has also been delighted by lizards. She used to keep them as pets.

Now a senior lecturer in zoology at The University of Melbourne and an Australian Research Council (ARC) research fellow, she has made a career out of it. Her work on colour in lizards and birds has led to significant findings in evolutionary biology. She showed, for instance, that the remarkable ability of chameleons to change colour evolved not as camouflage, but as a social and territorial display. And she has provided the first evidence to support the long-held view that the level of colour variation within species is directly related to the creation of new species.

Now, she has been awarded a $470,000 grant by the ARC to lead an international research initiative using Australian bearded dragons to delve further into how and why animals change colour—and what it costs them.

On the practical side, she has been collaborating with a group in CSIRO who are particularly interested in materials that change colour in response to heat. Such materials can be used, for instance, to produce bandages that track how wounds are healing.

Ten years ago Devi’s early career...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

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