The Bornean gliding lizard has such effective camouflage that each individual perfectly matches the color of falling leaves in its particular forest habitat, according to a new study.
The disguise applies to behavior too, as the lizard's glides look like leaves gently falling to the ground, reports the study, published in the latest issue of Animal Behavior.
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"The pattern of movement of falling leaves is extremely variable, but commonly includes a gliding motion akin to the directed gliding in Draco (the lizard)," wrote lead author Danielle Klomp of the University of New South Wales and her colleagues.
Klomp and her team studied gliding lizards at Bako National Park and Niah Caves National Park in Borneo. Both locations offer very different habitat for the colorful little lizards. The former has a coastal mangrove forest, while Niah Caves features a lowland rainforest.
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Because of the habitat differences, the colors of falling leaves vary per location. Falling leaves at Bako tend to be red, brown and black in color. Falling leaves in the rainforest, however, are green, brown and black.
The researchers found that the gliding membranes of the lizards closely match these two sets of colors.
"This suggests the two populations (of lizards) have diverged in gliding membrane coloration in order to match the colors of their local falling leaves, and that mimicking falling leaves is an adaption which functions to reduce predation by birds," the authors concluded.
Birds still swoop down and pick off the lizards, but are often foiled, probably due to too many mistaken attempts that resulted in a mouthful of leaves instead of reptile meat.
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The researchers suspect that gliding lizards in other countries have membranes that match falling leaves in those environments. Nature has outfitted the lizards perfectly for survival.
The camouflage holds additional functions as well. When the lizards find that the coast is clear, they put on impressive visual displays for one another. Males, for example, may extend their gliding membranes to look bigger in front of rivals. They also show off for females. The camouflage in this case serves as an attractive "cape" that gives them a flashier, important look for up close and more personal encounters.
Photo: Gliding lizard with its wings extended. Credit: Wikimedia Commons