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Female sexual attractiveness and sex recognition in leopard gecko: Males are indiscriminate courters

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Abstract

The nature and hormonal control of cues used for recognition of sex and reproductive status of conspecifics remain largely unstudied in reptiles. It has been proposed that production of a female attractiveness pheromone controlled by female ovarian hormones (and which is suppressed by male gonadal androgens) is necessary to elicit courtship in males. In the case of leopard gecko (Eublepharis macularius), it has been suggested that an individual is recognized as a male and attacked unless it produces female-specific stimuli in its skin and that females are attacked, not courted, while shedding. We tested the reactions of males to control males and control shedding and non-shedding females, castrated males, females treated with exogenous androgens (testosterone and dihydrotestosterone), and prepubertal individuals. The individuals with high androgen levels (i.e., control males and hormone-treated females) were attacked while animals in all the other groups were courted. Our results indicate that in leopard gecko hormonally controlled pheromones advertising female attractiveness are not required and that sex discrimination is based on the presence or absence of cues dependent on masculinization by male gonadal steroids.

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Sex recognition is based on colour signals in many species of lizards. However, olfactory stimuli are also clearly involved, and many species might rely more on chemoreception. We aimed to examine whether colour pattern or odours, or both, are used in sex recognition and which cues elicit courtship of females by males of the lizard Podarcis hispanica. We experimentally manipulated the coloration and odour of female P. hispanica, thereby creating groups with all combinations between coloration and odour of males and females. Using data from staged encounters, we compared the responses of resident males to manipulated and unmanipulated individuals (males and females). Responding males reacted significantly more aggressively to female intruders with male odours, independently of their coloration. Nevertheless, coloration seemed to be important in long-distance sex recognition since, in the first minutes, females painted as females received a lower number of aggressive responses. Both colour and odour were important in eliciting male courtship. However, females painted as females and with female odours were preferentially courted. Comparisons with unmanipulated male and female intruders agreed with these expectations. Therefore, at close range, odoriferous cues seem to be more important than colour patterns in sex recognition, but female coloration is also useful at long range to deter the aggressive response of males and to elicit courtship in conjunction with odours.
Social behavior of the western banded gecko Body size, male combat and the evolution of sexual dimorphism in eublepharid geckos (Squamata: Eublepharidae)
  • B L Greenberg
  • D Frynta
Greenberg, B., 1943. Social behavior of the western banded gecko, Coleonyx variegatus Kratochvíl, L., Frynta, D., 2002. Body size, male combat and the evolution of sexual dimorphism in eublepharid geckos (Squamata: Eublepharidae). Biol. J. Linn. Soc. 76, 303-314.