Sexual dimorphism of heads and abdomens: Different approaches to 'being large' in female and male lizards

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Sexual-size dimorphism (SSD) is widespread in animals. Body length is the most common trait used in the study of SSD in reptiles. However, body length combines lengths of different body parts, notably heads and abdomens. Focusing on body length ignores possible differential selection pressures on such body parts. We collected the head and abdomen lengths of 610 lizard species (Reptilia: Squamata: Sauria). Across species, males have relatively larger heads, whereas females have relatively larger abdomens. This consistent difference points to body length being an imperfect measure of lizard SSD because it comprises both abdomen and head lengths, which often differ between the sexes. We infer that female lizards of many species are under fecundity selection to increase abdomen size, consequently enhancing their reproductive output (enlarging either clutch or offspring size). In support of this, abdomens of lizards laying large clutches are longer than those of lizards with small clutches. In some analyses, viviparous lizards have longer abdomens than oviparous lizards with similar head lengths. Our data also suggest that male lizards are under sexual selection to increase head size, which is positively related to winning male-male combats and to faster grasping of females. Thus, larger heads could translate into higher probability to mate.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)665-673
Number of pages9
JournalBiological Journal of the Linnean Society
Issue number3
StatePublished - Nov 2013


  • Clutch size
  • Fecundity
  • Length
  • Size
  • Snout-vent length


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