Cellular basis of anti-predator adaptation in a lizard with autotomizable blue tail against specific predators with different colour vision

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Juveniles of numerous lizard species have a vividly blue-coloured tail that likely serves to deflect predator attacks toward the autotomizable tail rather than the lizard's body. The shades of blue colour in the tails of juvenile Plestiodon latiscutatus lizards vary across populations, most notably among those island populations with different predator assemblages. Here, we determine if this intraspecific variation is associated with the differences in colour vision capabilities of lizard predator species. If associated, it would be evidence for local adaptation of tail colour phenotype – natural selection is maximizing the conspicuousness of the tail to the dominant predator species to increase the chance of successfully deflecting attacks. We also use transmission electron microscopy (TEM) to determine the proximate cellular mechanisms that produce the shades of blue in different populations. We revealed that lizard tails with vivid blue reflectance evolved in communities with either weasel or snake predators, two groups of animals with the ability to detect blue wavelengths. However, lizard tail UV reflectance was much higher in populations with only snake predators; that snakes can detect UV, yet weasels cannot, suggests that high UV reflectance is an adaptation to increase tail conspicuousness specifically to snake predators. Finally, a cryptic brown tail evolved independently on the islands where birds are the primary lizard predator. We suggest that because birds have keen visual acuity; a brown, camouflaged phenotype is more advantageous. We also determined through TEM that the thickness of light reflecting platelets in iridophores, and densities of iridophores and xanthophores, predicted the wavelengths and intensity of light reflected by the lizard tail. For example, blue coloration was produced by selective reflection of short wavelengths of light by the thin light reflecting platelets of the iridophore. Greater iridophore density increased light reflectance, while greater xanthophore density decreased light reflectance.


  • T. Kuriyama
  • G. Morimoto
  • K. Miyaji
  • M. Hasegawa
External organisations
  • Toho University
  • Rikkyo University
Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Zoology


  • anti-predator adaptation, autotomy, colour vision, iridophore, Plestiodon latiscutatus, TEM, transmission electron microscopy, UV
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)89-98
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Zoology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2016 Oct 1
Publication categoryResearch