The role of colour in signalling and male choice in the agamid lizard Ctenophorus ornatus

Natasha R. LeBas, N. Justin Marshall

Abstract

Bright coloration and complex visual displays are frequent and well described in many lizard families. Reflectance spectrometry which extends into the ultraviolet (UV) allows measurement of such coloration independent of our visual system. We examined the role of colour in signalling and mate choice in the agamid lizard Ctenophorus ornatus. We found that throat reflectance strongly contrasted against the granite background of the lizards' habitat. The throat may act as a signal via the head–bobbing and push–up displays of C. ornatus. Dorsal coloration provided camouflage against the granite background, particularly in females. C. ornatus was sexually dichromatic for all traits examined including throat UV reflectance which is beyond human visual perception. Female throats were highly variable in spectral reflectance and males preferred females with higher throat chroma between 370 and 400 nm. However, female throat UV chroma is strongly correlated to both throat brightness and chest UV chroma and males may choose females on a combination of these colour variables. There was no evidence that female throat or chest coloration was an indicator of female quality. However, female brightness significantly predicted a female's laying date and, thus, may signal receptivity. One function of visual display in this species appears to be intersexual signalling, resulting in male choice of females.