While we all know that the dewlap of Anolis lizards must provide some information about the signalling lizard to receiver lizards or predators, we remain uncertain about the exact nature of this information. By measuring aspects of dewlap design as well as myriad features of Anolis sagrei locomotor, immune, and behavioural performance, Tess Driessens of the University of Antwerp has begun to unravel the web of information conveyed by the dewlap.
Driessens’ results are complex, to say the least. Different features of the male dewlap relate in un-intuitive ways to various aspects of performance. For example, dewlap brightness was inversely proportional to jumping ability as well as immunocompetence, but directly proportional to haematocrit levels. Most surprisingly, given contrary results from previous work in A. carolinensis, size-corrected bite force in males was not related to any dewlap design variable in A. sagrei. In contrast to the male dewlap, no features of the female dewlap were found to relate to any measure of performance.
Though not unique to anoles, dewlaps are a defining feature of the genus, and I’ve always been amazed at how little we actually know about what dewlaps can say about the individual lizards that bear them. Driessens’ study is an important step towards answering that question.