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Seeing red: morph-specific contest success, and survival rates, in a colour-polymorphic agamid lizard

  • Mo Healey
  • Tobias Uller
  • Mats Olsson
Publishing year: 2007
Language: English
Pages: 337-341
Publication/Series: Animal Behaviour
Volume: 74
Issue: 2
Document type: Journal article
Publisher: Elsevier

Abstract english

Red coloration in multicoloured or polymorphic species has been associated with dominance in a number of case studies, including probability of winning in human sports. However, it is not clear at what stage during ontogeny the association between red and the probability of winning contests occurs (or being perceived as more threatening by a contradistinct rival), for example, at conception, early ontogeny or at maturation. We analysed such coloration effects in a polymorphic (red versus yellow) species of lizard, the Australian painted dragon, Ctenophonts pictus. Red males were more likely to win dyadic contests with yellow males when competing for receptive females. When contestants were repainted with a rival's colour, there was a more than 30-fold increase in contest duration. Furthermore, when we tested for red-enhanced contest success in immature males, red was still significantly associated with winning. Thus, the association between red coloration and dominance seems to be set long before a male is naturally involved in sexual contests and could be an innate response to aid facultative fight or submission decisions, particularly in young males. To assess in situ selective benefits of the polymorphism, we released males in polymorphic and monomorphic groups. Males from polymorphic groups survived better, implying that polymorphism among neighbouring territorial males in the wild results in selective benefits.


  • Biological Sciences


  • ISSN: 1095-8282
Tobias Uller
E-mail: tobias.uller [at]


Evolutionary ecology

+46 46 222 30 94


Sölvegatan 37, Lund


Research group

Experimental Evolution, Ecology & Behaviour


Doctoral students and postdocs

I am currently about to move to Lund from University of Oxford. For details about DPhil students and postdocs in my previous research group based at the Edward Grey Institute, please click here

Downloads & links

CV (pdf; 241 kB)