What’s All the Fuss About Dewlaps?

Anolis carolinensis from http://www.mascotissimo.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/02/anolis_carolinensis.jpg

A few years ago, Richard Tokarz and colleagues conducted a series of studies in which he surgically disabled the dewlaps of some male A. sagrei and discovered that these functionally dewlapless lizards had no trouble holding a territory and seducing females. In a new study, Henningsen and Irschick found that surgically reducing the size of dewlaps in male A. carolinensis by about one-third had no effect on male-male aggressive interactions in the lab. Makes one wonder what’s the big deal about having a dewlap.

About Jonathan Losos

Author and Professor at Harvard University
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2 Responses to What’s All the Fuss About Dewlaps?

  1. Rich Glor says:

    As provocative as these results are, we should be careful with over-interpreting their implications. The Tokarz studies, for example, included only a small number of individuals observed over a relatively short duration. If I remember correctly, the males were also replaced in territories that they had previously established when their dewlaps were intact. Certainly an interesting starting point for additional work!

  2. George Merlot says:

    Outstanding! You actually went to the trouble of surgically reducing the size of dewlaps in male A. carolinensis by about one-third! This raises several questions:

    1) how did you decide on the fairly specific proportion of reduction of “about one-third”?
    2) do you think it is valid to generalise from this research to dewlap reductions of, say, round-about-a-half, more-or-less-three-eights, or give-or-take-five-twelfths?
    3) is it possible that the chinless A. sagrei carry their reduced or disabled dewlaps like duelling scars, thus what could be seen as a disfigurement in fact lends them an air of mystery and danger which could prove impressive and intimitading in male-male interactions and dowright sexy to the lady lizards?
    4) what might the effects on agressive male-male interactions, or indeed success in securing a mate be of surgically reducing other A. sagrei parts by about one-third? For example pruning the tail or lopping off 6 or 7 toes?
    5) has any research been done comparing and contrasting the lizard dewlap with the frat-boy eyebrow? A priori, both study groups seem to suffer similarly little loss of function despite reductions of about one-third resulting from vexatious surgical interventions.
    6) what on Earth do you get up to when you’re not operating on lizard dewlaps?

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