Gaping displays reveal and amplify a mechanically based index of weapon performance

A. Kristopher Lappin*, Yoni Brandt, Jerry F. Husak, Joseph M. Macedonia, Darrell J. Kemp

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

75 Citations (Scopus)
7 Downloads (Pure)


Physical prowess, a key determinant of fight outcomes, is contingent on whole-organism performance traits. The advertisement of performance, via display, is poorly understood because it is unclear how information about performance is encoded into display characteristics. Previous studies have shown that weapon performance (i.e., bite force) predicts dominance and reproductive success in male lizards. We tested the hypothesis that gaping displays by adult male collared lizards (Crotaphytus) can provide an index of weapon performance by exposing the major jaw-adductor muscle complex and that white patches at the mouth corners amplify this index. For territorial adult males, the breadth of the muscle complex, which is not correlated with body size, was a strong predictor of bite force. For nonterritorial yearling males and females, however, measures of body and head size predicted bite force. The patches are highly conspicuous, exhibit UV-reflecting properties within the visual range of lizards, and provide size-independent information about bite force only in adult males. We conclude that exposure of the muscle complex during gaping displays can provide rival males with a reliable, body-size independent, biomechanically based index of weapon performance, an index that the mouth-corner patches amplify. Indexes that transmit information through mechanistic links to performance are expected to be widespread among animals.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)100-113
Number of pages14
JournalAmerican Naturalist
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2006
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Copyright 2006 by University of Chicago Press. Originally published in The American Naturalist.


  • Bite-force performance
  • Crotaphytus
  • Cues
  • Jaws
  • Signals

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