Lizard movement tracks: variation in path re-use behaviour is consistent with a scent-marking function

Stephan T. Leu*, Grant Jackson, John F. Roddick, C. Michael Bull

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Citations (Scopus)
6 Downloads (Pure)


Individual movement influences the spatial and social structuring of a population. Animals regularly use the same paths to move efficiently to familiar places, or to patrol and mark home ranges. We found that Australian sleepy lizards (Tiliqua rugosa), a monogamous species with stable pair-bonds, repeatedly used the same paths within their home ranges and investigated whether path re-use functions as a scent-marking behaviour, or whether it is influenced by site familiarity. Lizards can leave scent trails on the substrate when moving through the environment and have a well-developed vomeronasal system to detect and respond to those scents. Path re-use would allow sleepy lizards to concentrate scent marks along these well-used trails, advertising their presence. Hypotheses of mate attraction and mating competition predict that sleepy lizard males, which experience greater intrasexual competition, mark more strongly. Consistent with those hypotheses, males re-used their paths more than females, and lizards that showed pairing behaviour with individuals of the opposite sex re-used paths more than unpaired lizards, particularly among females. Hinterland marking is most economic when home ranges are large and mobility is low, as is the case in the sleepy lizard. Consistent with this strategy, re-used paths were predominantly located in the inner 50% home range areas. Together, our detailed movement analyses suggest that path re-use is a scent marking behaviour in the sleepy lizard. We also investigated but found less support for alternative explanations of path re-use behaviour, such as site familiarity and spatial knowledge. Lizards established the same number of paths, and used them as often, whether they had occupied their home ranges for one or for more years. We discuss our findings in relation to maintenance of the monogamous mating system of this species, and the spatial and social structuring of the population.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere1844
Pages (from-to)1-20
Number of pages20
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 22 Mar 2016
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Copyright the Author(s) 2016. Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.


  • Movement strategy
  • Path re-use
  • Signalling
  • Olfactory cues
  • Lizard
  • Scincidae
  • Movement trails


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