Responses of female lizards, Lacerta monticola, to males' chemical cues reflect their mating preference for older males
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- López, P., Aragón, P. & Martín, J. Behav Ecol Sociobiol (2003) 55: 73. doi:10.1007/s00265-003-0675-3
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Female mate choice based on visual traits appears to be rare in lizards. Field observations suggest that females of the lizard Lacerta monticola preferred to mate with larger/older males. Although older males are usually green and larger, and younger males brown and smaller, there is some overlap in size and coloration between age classes. Thus, visual cues may not always be reliable indicators of a male's age. We hypothesized that female mate-choice preferences may be based on males' pheromones, which might transmit information about characteristics such as age. In a laboratory experiment, we analyzed the effect of age of males on attractiveness of their scents to females. When we offered scents of two males of different age, females associated preferentially with scents of older males. This suggested that females were able to assess the age of males by chemical signals alone, and that females preferred to be in areas scent-marked by older males. Thus, females may increase their opportunities to mate with males of high quality, or may avoid harassment by sneaking young males. This result agreed with field observations on females mating with old males, and rejection of advances by young males. Our results also suggested that female preference for older males may depend on their own body size. Large females showed a strong preference for older males, whereas smaller females were not so selective. This, together with males' preference for large females, might lead to size-assortative matings. We suggest that the quality and/or quantity of male pheromones could communicate to the female heritable male genetic quality (i.e. age) and thereby serve as the basis of adaptive female choice in lizards.