Cranial morphology and bite force in Chamaeleolis lizards--adaptations to molluscivory?

Zoology (Jena). 2008;111(6):467-75. doi: 10.1016/j.zool.2008.01.002. Epub 2008 Jul 31.


Anolis lizards have become a model system for the study of adaptive radiations as species with similar morphologies occupying similar habitats have arisen independently on all the larger islands in the Caribbean. However, on both, Cuba and Hispaniola unique forms have evolved that seemingly have no counterparts on any of the other Caribbean islands. Anoles of the genus Chamaeleolis comprise such a unique form and have been termed 'twig giants' because of their cryptic life style, slow locomotor mode, and short limbs. However, some of the most unusual features of these lizards are their large heads and molluscivorous diet. Here, we compare head shape, bite force, and muscle structure among sexes and age classes of Chamaeleolis lizards with Anolis crown giants. Our data show that Chamaeleolis lizards have a dramatically different head shape characterized by tall heads with a pronounced temporal ridge and long snouts. Analyses of bite force, surprisingly, show no differences between adult Chamaeleolis and Anolis crown giants. Juveniles of Chamaeleolis, however, have very tall heads for their size and bite harder than Anolis juveniles do. This can be related to the propensity of juveniles of this genus to eat snails, food items for which high bite forces are crucial. This observation is corroborated by the presence of well-developed jaw adductors in juveniles. Thus, our data suggest that the unusual phenotype of adults with large and tall heads may be due to selection on the juvenile life history stages.

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Biological / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Bite Force*
  • Feeding Behavior / physiology*
  • Iguanas / anatomy & histology*
  • Iguanas / physiology*
  • Mollusca*
  • Skull / anatomy & histology*
  • Skull / physiology*