Uncovering the function of an enigmatic display

antipredator behaviour in the iconic Australian frillneck lizard

Christian A. Perez-Martinez*, Julia L. Riley, Martin J. Whiting

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

When faced with a predator, some animals engage in a deimatic display to startle the predator momentarily, resulting in a pause or retreat, thereby increasing their chance of escape. Frillneck lizards (Chlamydosaurus kingii) are characterised by a large, pronounced frill that extends from the base of the head to beyond the neck and, when displayed, can be up to six times the width of the head. We used behavioural assays with a model avian predator to demonstrate that their display conforms to deimatic display theory. First, juveniles and adults deployed the frill in encounters with a model predator. Second, the display revealed three colour patches (white and red-orange patches on the frill; yellow mouth palate) that facilitate a transition from a cryptic to a conspicuous state as perceived by a raptor visual system. Third, the display was performed with movements that amplified its effect. The frill area was larger in males than in females, which suggests that the frill might also be co-opted for male-male contests. If future research confirms a role of the frill in male agonistic interactions, frillneck lizards will be a rare case in which a structure has a dual function in a deimatic display and a sexually selected signal.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)425-438
Number of pages14
JournalBiological Journal of the Linnean Society
Volume129
Issue number2
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2020

Keywords

  • Chlamydosaurus kingii
  • conspicuous display
  • crypsis
  • deimatic display
  • reptile
  • sensory ecology
  • squamate
  • startle display
  • visual display
  • visual modelling

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