I’m a big believer in the utility of watching animals in their natural environment, and it’s therefore no surprise that one of my favourite talks at the Animal Behaviour Society 2014 meeting was based on many, many hours of painstaking observation of Uromastyx ornata lizards in the rocky, arid cliffs of the Eilat Mountains in Israel. Amos Bouskila of Ben Gurion University presented an exciting outcome of this tremendous observation effort—a novel social behaviour in the Ornate Spiny Tailed Lizard, a large agamid that ranges from Egypt to Saudi Arabia. Here’s a video of this behaviour (starts at roughly 0:55) for National Geographic, filmed by Eyal Bartov.
This novel behaviour comprises an interaction between a male and a female, and includes the following steps:
1. The female flips over onto her back (or is pushed onto her back by the male, as in the video above).
2. The male walks over the female’s body a few times
3. The female rights herself and moves away.
The sequence of events can be initiated by either the male or the female (though it’s predominantly female initiated), occurs both before and after copulation, and continues to occur well into the nesting season. Bouskila therefore rejects the notion that the behaviour is related to copulation, and speculates that it instead relates to chemical signalling (males have enlarged femoral pores in this species) and that it functions to maintain pair bonds between these long-lived lizards. Further observation will tell if this exciting hypothesis holds true!