Animals frequently compete over resources, and the outcomes of these aggressive interactions depend on a number of factors – one of which is the animals’ previous social experiences. If an animal wins a fight, it may be more likely to win subsequent fights (a “winner effect”), and if it loses, it may be more likely to lose subsequent fights (a “loser effect”). Garcia et al. (2014, Animal Behavior) previously showed that green anoles exhibit loser effects, but not winner effects. Brittney Ivanov, research technician in Michele Johnson’s lab at Trinity University, wondered whether, since body color in green anoles is associated with social dominance, were color changes in green anoles associated with these loser effects? Could she cause a green anole to be brown if it was forced to lose social contests?
Brittney conducted an experiment using 16 male green anoles. First, in three consecutive days, these focal males interacted with a larger “trainer” male in the trainer male’s home cage for one hour. On the fourth day, the focal males interacted with a size-matched novel male in a cage that was new to both lizards. If the focal males were effectively trained to lose in the first three trials, she predicted that they would lose this fourth trial.
In the series of size-matched trials, 7 of the 16 contests resulted in a clear winner and loser, and 6 of those 7 focal males lost that trial. Further, focal males were less aggressive in the size-matched trial than they were in their previous training trials. These data support the presence of a loser effect in green anoles. Consistent with her previous work, Brittney also found that lizards that were more often green prior to the trials were more likely to win their trials, showing that body color is important in social contests.
This experiment revealed new findings about loser effects and body color. Focal males who lost their size-matched trial were more likely to be brown in the days after the trials – and not only that, they were more likely to become brown after the trials (so, these weren’t just loser males who had been brown all along).
All together, Brittney’s results show that body color can provide important information about a green anole’s fighting ability or motivation, or its recent social experience, and that dynamic body color influences multiple stages of social interaction in this species.