Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 58, Issue 4, pp 351–360 | Cite as

Combining motions into complex displays: playbacks with a robotic lizard

  • Emília P. Martins
  • Terry J. Ord
  • Sarah W. Davenport
Original Article


Complex displays composed of multiple, seemingly independent, units can result from sexual selection for increasingly variable, but redundant, displays and from potentially opposing selective pressures imposed by use of the display in multiple contexts. Our playback results support the latter, multireceiver hypothesis by confirming that two aspects of the sagebrush lizard headbob display (number of headbobs and use of display-specific body postures) are independently-meaningful components that are interpreted differently by different receivers. Male receivers use species-typical body postures to distinguish between aggressive and broadcast forms of the display, whereas female receivers are more attentive to the number of headbob motions, using these to distinguish male courtship from a challenge from a female competitor. Thus, display components are likely subject to different selective pressures and the display as a whole is evolving in response to a complex selective regime. Our example differs from other complex signals that have been considered in that both display elements involve dynamic motions (turned on and off by the display producer) as opposed to static signal elements (e.g., color, size). In addition, we found evidence that display structure is highly malleable, and that lizards both produce and respond to artificial displays that violate syntactic rules identified from field observations. Finally, our experiments demonstrate that a robotic lizard can be used effectively in playback studies of visual display behavior in lizards.


Behavior Communication Evolution Lizard Robot playback Sceloporus graciosus Sexual selection 



We are grateful to Erin Kelso for making the model lizards and Julie Thompson for advice on assembling/programming the robot. We would also like to thank Barbara Clucas and three anonymous reviewers for comments on a previous version of this manuscript. These experiments have been approved by the Indiana University IACUC (03-122) and comply with all United States laws

Supplementary material

S1 Movie clip of the robotic lizard producing a species-typical headbob display as in Fig. 1a (QuickTime movie) (1.6 mb)
Zip-archive (1.5 MB)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Emília P. Martins
    • 1
  • Terry J. Ord
    • 2
    • 3
  • Sarah W. Davenport
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Biology and the Center for the Integrative Study of Animal BehaviorIndiana UniversityBloomingtonUSA
  2. 2.Department of BiologyIndiana UniversityBloomingtonUSA
  3. 3.Division of Biological Sciences, Section of Evolution and EcologyUniversity of California at DavisDavisUSA

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