Many Ways to Achieve an Anole-Like Extendable Dewlap


Different phenotypic forms often serve the same functional outcome. A classical textbook example is the evolution of the wing in dinosaurs, birds and bats. This implies that organisms can respond in a variety of comparable ways to selection and that the same selection pressure thus can produce phenotypic diversity. Terry Ord and I have an early view paper in the American Naturalist that shows that an anole-like dewlap has evolved repeatedly in iguanids (Anolis) and agamids (Draco, Sitana, and Otocryptis), but in each case through different modifications to the underlying hyoid, which is the structure that powers the extension of the dewlap. The main point of difference among hyoid morpho-types, and also the component critical for the evolution of an extendible dewlap, is the angle between a short perpendicular structure called the hypohyal (see the figure) and a longer structure called the second ceratobranchial, which runs along the edge of the extended dewlap. There is also significant variation in the relative lengths of the same structures.


Other lizard species have converged around other hyoid morpho-types (our analysis identified a total of eight separate hyoid morpho-types). Interestingly we found evidence for convergence in hyoid morphology among species from distantly related genera, such as Polychrus, Gonocephalus and Trapelus. Species from these genera lack the large dewlap type found in Anolis and Draco, although the hyoid morpho-type of the two groups show some gross similarities. We suggest that the hyoid morpho-type of Polychrus, Gonocephalus and Trapelus might represent what an intermediate step looks like in the evolution of an extendable dewlap. More generally, our study shows that multiple adaptive solutions have been possible in apparent response to a common selection pressure, and that the phenotypic outcome that subsequently evolved in different genera seems to have been contingent on the history of the group in question.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Optionally add an image (JPEG only)