Animal display behaviors are used to convey specific messages to other animals, including potential mates, rivals, and predators. However, because these different types of interactions can be mediated by a single behavioral display, or conversely, multiple signals can be used to convey one specific message, interpretation of any particular behavioral display can be difficult. Leiocephalus lizards (i.e., curly tails) provide an excellent opportunity to study the use of display behaviors across multiple contexts. Previous research has demonstrated that the use of tail curling in these lizards is associated with predation risk, but less is known regarding the use of this behavior in social interactions with conspecifics. The goal of this study was to determine the extent to which tail curling display behavior is used to mediate both social and predatory interactions in two species, Leiocephalus barahonensis and L. carinatus. We found that in lizards of both species, tail curling was used in interactions with both conspecifics and potential (human) predators. However, tail curl intensity did not differ between lizards involved in social encounters and solitary lizards, although L. barahonensis lizards performed more headbobs during social than non-social observations. Further, L. carinatus lizards exhibited greater intensity of tail curling upon fleeing from a human predator than during observations in which individuals interacted with conspecifics, and lizards that exhibited tighter tail curls fled from predators for a longer distance. Finally, tail curl intensity was not correlated with headbob displays in either species, suggesting that these two components of display communicate different information. Our results suggest that tail curling displays, while consistently a component of interactions with potential predators, are not a necessary component of social interactions. These data contribute to a more complete understanding of how and why visual signals evolve for use in communication across multiple contexts.
Kircher, B. K., & Johnson, M. A. (2017). Why do curly tail lizards (genus Leiocephalus) curl their tails? An assessment of displays toward conspecifics and predators. Ethology, 123(5), 342-347. doi:10.1111/eth.12603