Masculinized Sexual Ornaments in Female Lizards Correlate with Ornament-Enhancing Thermoregulatory Behavior

B. A. Assis, J. D. Avery, R. L. Earley, T. Langkilde

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Synopsis The adaptive signifcance of colorful or exaggerated traits (i.e., ornaments) expressed in females is often unclear. Competing hypotheses suggest that expression of female ornaments arises from maladaptive (or neutral) genetic inheritance from males along with incomplete epigenetic regulation, or from positive selection for ornaments in females under social competition. Whether costly or advantageous, the visibility of such traits can sometimes be behaviorally modulated in order to maximize ftness. Female eastern fence lizards express blue badges that are variable in size and color saturation. These are rudimentary compared to those seen in males and carry important costs such as reduced mating opportunities. Body temperature is a well-established enhancer of badge color, and thus thermoregulation may be one way these animals modulate badge visibility. We quantifed realized body temperatures of female lizards paired in laboratory trials and observed that females with larger badges attained higher body temperatures when freely allowed to thermoregulate, sometimes beyond physiological optima. In this association between phenotype and behavior, females with larger badges exhibited thermoregulatory patterns that increase their badges' visibility. This signal-enhancing behavior is difcult to reconcile with the widely held view that female ornaments are maladaptive, suggesting they may carry context-dependent social benefts.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberobac029
JournalIntegrative Organismal Biology
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Plant Science


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