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Exploring the function of red colouration in female spiny-footed lizards (Acanthodactylus erythrurus): patterns of seasonal colour change

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In spiny-footed lizards (Acanthodactylus erythrurus), adult females (but not males) show conspicuous red colouration in the tail and hind legs. To investigate the function of this red colouring and proximal causes of seasonal colour change, we captured adult females before the reproductive season and kept them in captivity in one of the three following situations: with a male and fertilization possible, with a male and fertilization impossible, or with another female (fertilization also impossible). Colour was quantified using spectrophotometry. Red colouration increased shortly before the onset of reproduction, but faded during the breeding season and became whitish (light buff-gray) in all cases. Both fertilized and unfertilized females laid eggs or were gravid after two months of the experiment, but while fertilized females laid mostly fertile eggs, unfertilized females only laid infertile eggs. Both egg formation and colour change might be triggered by abiotic factors, although female characteristics also play a role, since heavier females changed colour and laid eggs earlier. Females interacting freely with a male were darker at the end of the breeding season than females separated from the male, indicating that fertilization or physical contact might also have an effect on colouration. Colour change patterns found in this study suggest that female red colouration might have a mating-related function, but do not support a courtship rejection function for the red colour. However, whitish colouration resulting from red fading might signal gravidity in this species. Future experimental manipulation of female colouration will be needed to test these hypotheses.

Affiliations: 1: 1Departamento de Ecología Evolutiva, Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales (CSIC), Calle José Gutiérrez Abascal 2, E-28006 Madrid, Spain; 2: 2Departamento de Ecología, Edificio de Ciencias, Universidad de Alcalá, E-28871 Alcalá de Henares, Madrid, Spain

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2013-01-01
2016-12-03

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