Ultraviolet signals ultra-aggression in a lizard

Martin J. Whiting*, Devi M. Stuart-Fox, David O'Connor, David Firth, Nigel C. Bennett, Simon P. Blomberg

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

136 Citations (Scopus)


Understanding the role of multiple colour signals during sexual signalling is a central theme in animal communication. We quantified the role of multiple colour signals (including ultraviolet, UV), measures of body size and testosterone levels in settling disputes between male rivals in an elaborately ornamented, African lizard, played out in a large 'tournament' in the wild. The hue and brightness (total reflectance) of the UV throat in Augrabies flat lizards, Platysaurus broadleyi, as well as body size, were consistent and strong predictors of 'fighting ability'. Males with high fighting ability were larger and displayed a UV throat with low total reflectance. In contrast, males with low fighting ability were smaller and had violet throats with broader spectral reflectance curves (higher total reflectance). As fighting ability is associated with alternative reproductive tactics in this system (territorial versus floater), we also examined the role of colour signals in predicting male reproductive tactic. Territorial males had UV throats with higher chroma but had poorer body condition than floater males, probably because of the energetic costs of maintaining a territory. Although testosterone was not a significant predictor of fighting ability or reproductive tactic, it was correlated with the hue of the UV throat, suggesting that testosterone may impose some constraint on signal expression. Lastly, we show that within the context of the natural signalling environment, UV-reflective throats constitute a conspicuous, effective signal that male Augrabies flat lizards use to advertise their status honestly to rivals.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)353-363
Number of pages11
JournalAnimal Behaviour
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2006
Externally publishedYes


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