Australian central bearded dragons are able to change sex when exposed to high temperatures, claim researchers.
Lead author Dr Clare Holleley and co-author Professor Arthur Georges studied the reptiles at the University of Canberra before publishing a paper in the international journal Nature.
They said: “We are so excited about this work. Essentially what we have found is that in the Australian Central Bearded Dragon, would-be boys (genetically) are reversed by high temperatures to become girls who then mate with normal boy lizards to jettison their sex chromosomes and move to a temperature-dependent mode of sex determination.
“Not only have we demonstrated this sex reversal in the laboratory, and bred male x male-reversed-to-female lines, but we have shown that sex reversal is occurring in the semi arid regions of the Australian outback. This is the first case of sex reversal in a reptile.
“It is quite remarkable. Species with temperature-dependent sex determination are thought to be appallingly vulnerable to climate change, as relatively small shifts in nest temperatures can lead to 100% of one or the other sex being produced. A worrying element arising from our work is that species with genetic sex determination, previously thought to be immune to thermal influences, may also be vulnerable to climate change.”