Lizard threat display handicaps endurance

Proc Biol Sci. 2003 May 22;270(1519):1061-8. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2003.2343.


Honest-signalling theory asserts that threat displays reliably advertise attributes that influence fighting success. Endurance, as measured by treadmill performance, predicts the outcome of agonistic interactions among lizards. If threat displays in lizards function to advertise endurance capacity then variation in threat displays should correlate with endurance. I tested this prediction for the duration of threat posturing in male side-blotched lizards (Uta stansburiana) and examined whether threat displays act as quality handicaps, reliable signals that expend the attribute that is advertised. Individual variation in the duration of threat posturing correlated with endurance, while an experimental reduction of endurance diminished the duration of threat posturing. As expected of a quality handicap, endurance fell below baseline after display production. A restriction of aerobic metabolism can account for this effect. In threat posturing, lateral compression of the thorax may interfere with respiration or with circulation, limiting aerobic metabolism and causing a compensatory increase in anaerobic metabolism, thereby generating lactate and diminishing locomotor capacity. Concentrations of lactate measured after display production were higher than baseline, consistent with the proposed mechanism. By restricting aerobic metabolism, the threat posture can act as a quality handicap, simultaneously advertising and expending the endurance capacity of displaying lizards.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aggression / physiology*
  • Animal Communication*
  • Animals
  • Energy Metabolism
  • Lactic Acid / metabolism
  • Lizards / physiology*
  • Male
  • Muscle, Skeletal / metabolism
  • Physical Endurance / physiology*


  • Lactic Acid