Context . The use of artificial refuges is a common strategy for the conservation management of endangered species. However, artificial refuges may alter an animal’s natural behaviour that in turn may be detrimental to the species. The endangered pygmy bluetongue lizard from Australia is one species that will accept artificial burrows.
Aims . The aim of the present research was to determine whether the normal behaviour of the pygmy bluetongue lizards differed between artificial and natural burrows, so as to determine whether the existing artificial burrow is an optimal design for this species.
Methods . In the present study, we filmed the behaviour of lizards as they entered artificial and natural burrows. We compared the number of times a lizard entered a burrow, the time that lizards spent inspecting burrows, and the behaviours that lizards used when entering artificial and natural burrows.
Key results . We found that in natural burrows, lizards always entered head first, and then usually reversed direction inside, using an enlarged basal chamber, to sit with their head uppermost in the entrance. In artificial burrows, however, lizards had to enter head first, then reverse tail-first back out, and then reverse tail-first back into the burrow (so as to have their head facing upwards) We called this behaviour reversing from outside.
Key conclusion . The stereotyped reversing-from-outside behaviour when entering artificial burrows, and its occasional occurrence in natural burrows, suggest that it has evolved to allow lizards to use narrow burrows as well as those with a chamber, even though it can increase lizard’s surface activity and exposure to predation.
Implication . The reversing behaviour from outside the artificial burrow increases exposure to potential predators, and our observations suggest that a re-design of artificial burrows to incorporate internal space for turning around may improve their effectiveness in conservation management interventions.