Male Southern Alligator Lizards Clamp The Heads Of Their Mates For Hours During Courtship

This author observed a pair of southern alligator lizards in such an embrace for more than eight hours.
Southern Alligator Lizard Embrace
These southern alligator lizards were in this embrace outside the author's home for more than 8 hours. Photo by John Virata

Southern alligator lizards (Elgaria multicarinata) have an interesting courtship whereby the male clamps its jaw onto the head of the female and does not let go for hours. Researchers studying the species at California Polytechnic University, Pomona, in Pomona, CA have documented the lizard in this mate-holding behavior and have concluded that the reptile’s muscle have the capability of powering high endurance behaviors. This, they say, dispels the notion that reptilian muscle is incapable of doing so. The researchers performed fatigue tests and measured bite force of Southern alligator lizards and also found that the jaw muscles of Elgaria multicarinata “contain masticatory and tonic myosin fibres” that the researchers believe explains the unique sustained force properties of the jaws of the alligator lizard during the mate-holding behavior.

They note that while other reptiles exhibit mate-holding behaviors, none do so to the extent of the Southern alligator lizard and for the length of time that they hold onto their mates. This author observed a pair of southern alligator lizards in such an embrace for more than eight hours with no movement from the two reptiles.

This mate holding behavior, the researchers say, indicates “ physiological specialization for fatigue resistance that is atypical of vertebrate skeletal muscle.”

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The researchers believe that the Southern alligator lizards  might use the “slowing of relaxation with increased fatigue to their advantage.” They believe the muscle relaxation and the mechanism that causes it might enable the alligator lizard to reduce or mitigate fatigue during episodes such as this type of mate holding.

Southern Alligator Lizard Information

The southern alligator lizard is found on the West Coast of North America, from Baja California up to Washington state. It grows up to seven inches in length with a tail that can be twice as long as the body. Coloration varies from brown, gray, green, and even yellowish, with nine to 13 crossbones on its back, sides, and tail. They are found in grasslands, forests and even in urban and suburban areas. There are three subspecies: the California alligator lizard (E. m. multicarinata), the San Diego alligator lizard (E. m. webbii), and the Oregon alligator lizard (E. m. scincicauda).

The complete paper, “Fatigue resistant jaw muscles facilitate long-lasting courtship behaviour in the southern alligator lizard (Elgaria multicarinata)” can be read on the Proceedings of the Royal Society B website.

Categories: Lizard Breeding, Lizard Information & News