The language of lizards

interpreting the function of visual displays of the Indian rock lizard, Psammophilus dorsalis (Agamidae)

Rajkumar S. Radder*, Srinivas K. Saidapur, Richard Shine, Bhagyashri A. Shanbhag

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

24 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

The first step in understanding any communication system is to document signal diversity relative to the context of signalling (e.g. sex of the signaller and audience). Observation of 30 free-ranging rock lizards (Psammophilus dorsalis) on rock outcrops in southern India over a period of 18 months revealed that these lizards produce a complex array of ritualized signals involving push-ups (head-bobbing), dorsal flattening, extension of the legs or gular region, and tail-raising. Push-ups were performed by both sexes, usually after moving from one location to another. Push-ups were rarely accompanied by other postural modifications, and seem to function as non-directed signals. Dorsal flattening was elicited by birds flying overhead, and seems to make the lizard less conspicuous to predators. There was, nonetheless, a strong sex difference in the frequency of this behaviour, because the habitats used by males (open rocks) exposed them to more birds. Males displayed to females by extending their gular folds and arching their backs; other animals (e.g. squirrels, monkeys) also elicited the latter posture from both sexes. Leg extension was observed for both males and females, but in different contexts-males in response to conspecifics, females in response to other animals. Females raised their tails in response to encountering a male. Thus, these lizards have a complex repertoire of postures for predator evasion, for interaction with other species and with conspecifics, and for communicating sex-specific social information about gender (tail-raise) or dominance status (gular extension, leg extension).

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)275-283
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Ethology
Volume24
Issue number3
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2006
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • assertion display
  • directed display
  • lizards
  • reptiles
  • social display

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