Pianka, often referred to as the "Lizard Man," has spent a lifetime studying the evolution and ecology of monitor, or varanid, lizards.
Some monitor lizards are the largest lizards to walk the planet. With their acute intelligence--including the ability to plan ahead--these lizards are a very different kind of reptile, blurring the line between reptiles and mammals.
"Lizard Kings" will air on PBS on Oct. 20 at 7 p.m. (CST) and will look at what makes monitor lizards so similar to mammals and what has allowed them to become unique survivors.
The show will follow expert lizard hunter Pianka as he tracks the elusive creatures through Australia's heartland with cutting-edge "lizard cam" technology for an unparalleled close encounter with these amazingly versatile "living dragons."
Much of Pianka's research has occurred in Australia, home to monitor lizards as large as the six-foot-long perentie (Varanus giganteus) and as small as the eight-inch-long pygmy monitor (Varanus brevicauda). The giant Komodo dragon of Indonesia is also a varanid lizard.
Pianka is the Denton A. Cooley Centennial Professor in Zoology in the Section of Integrative Biology. He has written several books on lizards, including: "The Lizard Man Speaks" (1994), "Lizards: Windows to the Evolution of Diversity" (2003) with L. J. Vitt, and "Varanoid Lizards of the World" (2004) with D.R. King.
Watch "Lizard Kings" online.