Researchers find lizards' frilled neck is more than just for show

May 28, 2013
Credit: David Hamilton

(Phys.org) —Researchers have discovered that the brightly coloured frills of the iconic Australian frillneck lizard (Chlamydosaurus kingii) can be used to predict the animals fighting ability.

In a recent paper published in Behavioral Ecology, researchers from Macquarie University and The Australian National University examined which traits were significant predictors of a male frillneck lizard's success when fighting.

Of those tested, two traits were identified as significant in contest success: and the brightness of the lizard's frill colour. As expected, being bigger helped in 83% of the wins but what was surprising was that males with a more colourful frill patch won 90% of contests.

"Surprisingly, traits such as frill size, head size and bite force did not predict contest outcome. Instead, males with brighter and more colourful frills were more likely to dominate opponents and take gold," says biologist Dr Martin Whiting, Macquarie University.

This is significant because you would expect a higher body mass to influence relative fighting ability, but in situations where there is no clear in size between opponents the levels appear to be a clear indicator."

The researchers tested levels of carotenoid pigmentation – responsible for the conspicuous yellow, orange, and red colours in the lizard's frill – and found a strong correlation between high levels of carotenoid and the lizard's ability to defeat a competitor when confronted. This is the first example of a carotenoid-based signal of fighting ability in a lizard.

"This is an exciting result because while carotenoids have been the source of considerable study among our feathered friends, we know little about the role of in ," says Whiting.

Both have frills and until now, the consensus has always been that frills primary role is in anti-predator behaviour. This new research indicates that the colours might also be important for signal fighting ability and play a role in sexual selection.

Explore further: Male monkey filmed caring for dying mate (w/ Video)

More information: Hamilton, D., Whiting, M. and Pryke, S. 2013. Fiery frills: carotenoid-based coloration predicts contest success in frillneck lizards. Behavioral Ecology doi: Article first published 20 May 2013, beheco.oxfordjournals.org/content/early/2013/05/20/beheco.art041.full

Related Stories

Lizard uses UV signals to ward off rivals

Mar 21, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- We’re all familiar with different animal species using a variety of strategies to attract a mate or chase off an aggressor or a rival. For birds, it’s often a dazzling display of ...

Ecologists get fish eye view of sexual signals

Nov 10, 2010

Carotenoid pigments are the source of many of the animal kingdom's most vivid colours; flamingos' pink feathers come from eating carotenoid-containing shrimps and algae, and carotenoid colours can be seen among garden birds ...

Nest diet has big impact on attractiveness of hihi birds

Feb 13, 2013

Published today by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) and University of Cambridge, the study reveals that male hihi birds develop more colourful and attractive breeding feathers if they receive a nest ...

Hotter homes produce smarter babies

Jan 12, 2012

(PhysOrg.com) -- A hotter home appears to produce babies with better cognitive abilities - but before you turn up the home heater to make your baby brainier, the research was conducted on the Australian lizard ...

Recommended for you

Male monkey filmed caring for dying mate (w/ Video)

Apr 18, 2014

(Phys.org) —The incident was captured by Dr Bruna Bezerra and colleagues in the Atlantic Forest in the Northeast of Brazil.  Dr Bezerra is a Research Associate at the University of Bristol and a Professor ...

Orchid named after UC Riverside researcher

Apr 17, 2014

One day about eight years ago, Katia Silvera, a postdoctoral scholar at the University of California, Riverside, and her father were on a field trip in a mountainous area in central Panama when they stumbled ...

In sex-reversed cave insects, females have the penises

Apr 17, 2014

Researchers reporting in the Cell Press journal Current Biology on April 17 have discovered little-known cave insects with rather novel sex lives. The Brazilian insects, which represent four distinct but re ...

Fear of the cuckoo mafia

Apr 17, 2014

If a restaurant owner fails to pay the protection money demanded of him, he can expect his premises to be trashed. Warnings like these are seldom required, however, as fear of the consequences is enough to ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Atom probe assisted dating of oldest piece of earth

(Phys.org) —It's a scientific axiom: big claims require extra-solid evidence. So there were skeptics in 2001 when University of Wisconsin-Madison geoscience professor John Valley dated an ancient crystal ...