Heads or tails? Sexual dimorphism in helodermatid lizards

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Biological Sciences

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We tested the hypothesis that helodermatid lizards (Gila monsters, Heloderma suspectum Cope, 1869, and beaded lizards, H. horridum (Wiegmann, 1829)) show sexual dimorphism in morphological traits related to malemale agonistic behaviors. Malemale combat in helodermatid lizards involves repeated sequences of ritualized grappling. Male Gila monsters use their heads in attempts to gain or maintain a superior position during repeated combat bouts that may last for hours. Pairs of fighting male beaded lizards form spectacular body arches, with abdomens adpressed and snouts, forelimbs, and tail tips contacting the ground. We measured body size, head size, and tail length in 208 preserved H. suspectum, and body size and tail length (but not head size) in 79 live H. horridum, then tested for sexual dimorphism using analysis of covariance. Male Gila monsters had proportionately larger heads than females but did not differ in tail length or body size. Male beaded lizards had proportionately longer tails than females and were larger in body size only when the largest individuals were included in the analysis. Differences in head dimensions (in H. suspectum) and tail length (in H. horridum) are likely the result of sexual selection acting through malemale agonistic behaviors in this unique lizard taxon.


This article was originally published in Canadian Journal of Zoology. The full-text article from the publisher can be found here.

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Canadian Journal of Zoology


© 2007 NRC Canada