If the stress of military life has ever led you to the bottom of a pint of ice cream (or two), you’re not alone: these rare lizards near Fort Carson, Colorado, are right there with you.
A new study found that these uncommon reptiles, known as Colorado checkered whiptails, are spending extra time eating in response to stressful sounds from military aircraft at the nearby Army post.
Researchers noted the all-female lizards moved less and ate more to cope with the noisy flyovers, according to a study published Wednesday in Frontiers in Amphibian and Reptile Science. Various fighter jets and transport aircraft — along with Apache, Chinook and Blackhawk helicopters — regularly soar within 20,000 feet above Fort Carson, the study said.
While monitoring the impacts of coordinated flyovers in 2021, scientists surveyed the lizards during the species’ reproductive season to evaluate shifts in their stress hormones.
“Here we show that noise disturbance does have measurable physiological impacts on Colorado checkered whiptails,” one of the study’s authors said. “We also show that they are somewhat resilient and may compensate for this to some degree by [altering] their feeding and movement behaviors.”
The species is considered to be “at risk” by the Army and of “special concern” by Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the study added.
To remedy the situation, the authors suggest military aircraft operators attempt to avoid flying near dense populations of the lizards during their reproductive season. They also recommend possibly flying at higher altitudes to reduce noise at ground level to below 50 decibels.
“We will continue to listen to our community and work through any noise issues that may arise. We strive to balance our training requirements with respecting the communities throughout the [s]tate of Colorado,” the installation said last fall during a noise-generating exercise.
Exactly how the Army will continue to manage the “sound of freedom” for the high-strung reptiles remains to be seen.
Jonathan is a staff writer and editor of the Early Bird Brief newsletter for Military Times. Follow him on Twitter @lehrfeld_media