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Ultraviolet reflectance and cryptic sexual dichromatism in the ocellated lizard, Lacerta (Timon) lepida (Squamata: Lacertidae)

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Ultraviolet (UV) colorations have garnered extensive theoretical and empirical treatment in recent years, although the majority of studies have concerned themselves with avian taxa. However, many lizards have acute visual systems with retinal photoreceptors that are sensitive to UV wavelengths, and also display UV-reflecting colour patches. In the present study, we used UV photography and full-spectrum reflectance spectrophotometry to describe intra- and intersexual colour variation in adult ocellated lizards Lacerta (Timon) lepida and to obtain evidence of UV-based ornamentation. We also investigated whether any colour traits correlate with morphological traits potentially related to individual quality. The results obtained show that the prominent eyespots and blue outer ventral scales (OVS) that ocellated lizards have on their flanks reflect strongly in the UV range and are best described as UV/blue in coloration. The eyespots of males are larger and cover a larger surface area than those of females. However, these differences can be entirely accounted for by sex differences in body size, with males being generally larger than females. We also found differences in the shape of reflectance curves from males and females, with the eyespots and blue OVS of males being more UV-shifted than those of females. Other body regions have extremely low UV reflectance and are not sexually dichromatic. Eyespot size and the total surface area covered by eyespots increases with body size in males but not in females, suggesting that they may be signalling an intrinsic individual characteristic such as body size or male fighting ability. We also discuss the alternative and non-exclusive hypothesis that eyespots may function in lizards of both sexes as protective markings against predators. © 2009 The Linnean Society of London, Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 2009, 97, 766–780.
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Keywords: body coloration; reptile; signalling; spectral sensitivity; visual communication; visual ecology

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2009-08-01

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