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Choosing between a rock and a hard place: Camouflage in the round-tailed horned lizard Phrynosoma modestum

Author(s): William E. COOPER, Jr., Wade C. SHERBROOKE

Journal: Current Zoology
ISSN 1674-5507

Volume: 58;
Issue: 4;
Start page: 541;
Date: 2012;
Original page

Keywords: Animal defense | Background matching | Camouflage | Crypsis | Masquerade | Squamata

The round-tailed horned lizard Phrynosoma modestum is cryptically colored and resembles a small stone when it draws legs close to its body and elevates its back. We investigated effectiveness of camouflage in P. modestum and its dependence on stones by placing a lizard in one of two microhabitats (uniform sand or sand with surface rocks approximately the same size as lizards). An observer who knew which microhabitat contained the lizard was asked to locate the lizard visually. Latency to detection was longer and probability of no detection within 60 s was higher for lizards on rock background than on bare sand. In arenas where lizards could choose to occupy rock or bare sand, much higher proportions selected rocky backgrounds throughout the day; at night all lizards slept among stones. A unique posture gives P. modestum a rounded appearance similar to many natural stones. Lizards occasionally adopted the posture, but none did so in response to a nearby experimenter. Stimuli that elicit the posture are unknown. That P. modestum is better camouflaged among rocks than on bare sand and prefers to occupy rocky areas suggests that special resemblance to rocks (masquerade) enhances camouflage attributable to coloration and immobility [Current Zoology 58 (4): 541–548, 2012].
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