Ladyboy lizards use transvestite trickery: researchers

March 3, 2009
Young male lizards in South Africa imitate females to fool aggressive older males into leaving them alone, in an example of transvestism in the natural world, according to South African and Australian reaseachers. They found that young male Augrabies flat lizards (pictured) delayed displaying the extravagent coloration of sexually-mature males until they were able to defend themselves adequately.

Young male lizards in South Africa imitate females to fool aggressive older males into leaving them alone, in an example of transvestism in the natural world, researchers have found.

The lizards not only avoid fights but gain access to females under the nose of their more macho rivals, the South African and Australian researchers discovered.

They found that young male Augrabies flat lizards delayed displaying the extravagant coloration of sexually-mature males until they were able to defend themselves adequately.

"Experienced males will chase and bite their young rivals," said associate professor Martin Whiting of Johannesburg's University of the Witwatersrand.

"By delaying the onset of colour to a more convenient period, these males, termed she-males, are making the best of a bad situation."

Australian National University associate professor Scott Keogh said opting to become transvestites for a period offered young males a dual advantage.

"They can avoid potentially dangerous bouts with dominant males and still have access to normally inaccessible females," he said.

But, as with large hands and an Adam's apple in the human world, there is a flaw in the lizards' transvestite transformation.

Dominant males can detect transvestite's male hormones with their sensitive tongues, even if they are taken in by their female appearance.

University of Sydney researcher Jonathan Webb said this meant the she-males needed to be nimble to avoid advances from dominant males smitten by their fake female allure.

"Males are fooled by looks, but not by scent," he said.

"She-males are able to maintain this deception by staying one step ahead of a prying male, and thereby avoiding a nosey tongue that might give the game away."

The research was published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society.

(c) 2009 AFP

Explore further: Too hot: Temperatures messing with sex of Australian lizards

Related Stories

Personality and sex explain learning ability in a lizard

March 12, 2014

(Phys.org) —Researchers have discovered that the sex and personality of lizards can influence their learning ability, with males faring better than females in spatial learning, and bold or conversely shy personalities faring ...

Recommended for you

How bees naturally vaccinate their babies

July 31, 2015

When it comes to vaccinating their babies, bees don't have a choice—they naturally immunize their offspring against specific diseases found in their environments. And now for the first time, scientists have discovered how ...

New insights into the production of antibiotics by bacteria

July 31, 2015

Bacteria use antibiotics as a weapon and even produce more antibiotics if there are competing strains nearby. This is a fundamental insight that can help find new antibiotics. Leiden scientists Daniel Rozen and Gilles van ...

Out of the lamplight

July 31, 2015

The human body is governed by complex biochemical circuits. Chemical inputs spur chain reactions that generate new outputs. Understanding how these circuits work—how their components interact to enable life—is critical ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.