Brightly Colored Male Lizards Attract More Mates -- and Predators

These reptiles put their necks on the line to find The One.

Steffen Ramsaier on Flickr

Being too pretty could cost you your life, if you’re a lizard. Brightly colored males attract more mates, but they’re also more likely to attract the attention of predators, according to new research published in Ecology and Evolution.

Will this fella find love or be lunch?

timokoo on Flickr

Researchers wanted to test how much easier it is for birds to spot male lizards compared with females. They conducted their tests on the Greek islands of Skopelos and Syros.

They built 600 clay models of Aegean wall lizards, or Podarcis erhardii. The models were coloured so that they would look like lizards not to human eyes, but to bird eyes, who see UV light.

Those clay models on the right wouldn't fool us, but to a bird they look like tasty treats.

Kate Marshall

The models were placed at different locations around the islands, and the scientists recorded which ones were attacked by birds. They were pretty sure the deception worked.

“The models that had been attacked showed signs of beak marks, particularly around the head, and some had been decapitated,” says lead author Kate Marshall in a statement. “We even found a few heads in different fields to the bodies.”

Poor fake lizards!

These clay lizards didn't stand a chance.

Kate Marshall

As the researchers suspected, the model lizards with male coloring were attacked more frequently than the females. But still, most survived. More than 80 percent of the male clay lizards were still kicking after five days.

So there’s a trade-off, if you’re a lizard. You want to be bright enough to attract the attention of the ladies, but dull enough to remain more or less concealed from birds.

The evolutionary sweet spot in between dictates how flashy a particular lizard will be, at a particular spot in the world, given particular relationships with predators. It goes to show, there really is such a thing as attracting too much attention.

He's nice to look at, but he's not sitting pretty.

Dennis Jarvis on Flickr
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