Blue tail and striped body: Why do lizards change their infant costume when growing up?

Dror Hawlena*, Rami Boochnik, Zvika Abramsky, Amos Bouskila

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

82 Scopus citations


Ontogenetic changes in color and pattern that are not directly related to reproduction are very common yet remain a poorly understood phenomenon. One example is conspicuous colors in the tails of fish, amphibians, and reptiles that fade out later in life. We suggest a novel hypothesis: conspicuous tail colors that appear only in juveniles compensate for an increased activity level, deflecting imminent attacks to the tail. We observed blue-tailed, newly hatched lizards (Acanthodactylus beershebensis) in the field and compared 5 behavioral parameters with those of older individuals that had already lost their neonate coloration. In addition, we explored whether tail displays, often assumed to direct a predator's attention to the tail, disappear with the color change. Striped blue-tailed hatchlings foraged more actively than 3-week-old juveniles, spent a longer time in open microhabitats, and performed deflective tail displays. In comparison, 2 other lacertids that do not undergo ontogenetic change did not switch to safer foraging when growing up. The results suggest that activity alteration may be a major factor affecting the ontogenetic color and pattern change. Active lizards that forage in open habitats increase their probability of attack by ambush predators. Conspicuous colors and deflection displays may shift attacks to the expendable tail, increasing the prey's overall probability of surviving attacks. The persistence of both striped body pattern and blue tail fits the active foraging period of neonates and hence may be appropriate for other species that display a conspicuous tail accompanied by a striped pattern.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)889-896
Number of pages8
JournalBehavioral Ecology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 2006
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We warmly thank Atar Adout for dedicated field assistance; Leon Blaustein, David Saltz, and 2 anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments; and Samuel M. Scheiner for valuable statistical advice. We thank Gideon Raziel for assistance with the UV photography. All field-work reported herein was conducted under permits from the Israeli Nature and Parks Authority. This research project was supported by an International Arid Lands Consortium grant 99R-10 and by a Israel Science Foundation grant to A.B. This is publication number 516 of the Mitrani Department of Desert Ecology.


  • Acanthodactylus beershebensis
  • Antipredatory behavior
  • Autotomy
  • Foraging activity
  • Ontogeny


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