Surprise: Lizard Feeds Its Babies Feces

Talk about a crappy meal: The leopard tree iguana feeds her newborns feces, according to new research.

Found only in the Chilean Andes, Liolaemus leopardinus moms shove off just 24 hours after delivery, leaving their brood poop for a snack, according to new research led by Stanley Fox at Oklahoma State University. (Also see “Talking Poop With Author of ‘The Origin of Feces.'”)

A male L. leopardinus sporting the colored dots that help scientists identify it. Photograph courtesy Enrique Santoyo-Brito

By munching on their mom’s manure, infants get a nutritious treat as well as a healthy dose of microbes, which are necessary for them to survive in the wild, researchers believe.

Poop presents, though stinky, are actually pretty remarkable. Lizards as a group generally don’t care for their young at all, so the Chilean iguana and her smelly idea of baby’s first dinner is rather exceptional. (See pictures of the world’s worst animal moms.)

The meal may also be important for the survival of the species. Because lizard infants are so delicate and fragile, they need two to five days to bulk up before they can dig their way out of the birthing cave and into the world.

After leaving the birthing cave, these little lizards are on their own. The siblings spend winters under flat rocks, far away from their mother and the rest of their relatives.

Come spring, however, the young lizards may use odor cues to sniff out their mom’s scent.

With poop-eating behind them, the juveniles may reunite with their parents and other relatives to form family groups, according to Fox, whose research was partially funded by the National Geographic Society’s Committee for Research and Exploration.

Tell us: What other weird things have you seen animals eat?

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Meet the Author
Mollie Bloudoff-Indelicato is a science journalist who loves em dashes, ’80s music and parasites. She has a master’s degree from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism with concentrations in science journalism, photography, and radio reporting. Contact her at, and follow her on Twitter at @mbloudoff.