Open Access Open Access  Restricted Access Subscription or Fee Access

Step by Step Examination of Tail Movement Sequences Reveals Functional Differentiation in Signals of Spotted Toad-Headed Agamas Phrynocephalus guttatus (Gmelin, 1789) (Reptilia: Agamidae)

Vladislav A. Gorin, Eugeny A. Dunayev, Boris D. Vassiliev


Phrynocephalus lizards are well-known for their remarkable tail movements. Possible function of such displays still remains unclear. We present a new approach for studying displays of Phrynocephalus, analyzing them as a sequence of movements. Here, we describe four tail movements of Phrynocephalus guttatus on the basis of observations on the population from the surroundings of Astrakhan, Russia. We found that movement sequences are structured and two main stereotyped patterns for movement sequences are suggested to distinguish depending on function they perform — aggressive or submissive. We also explain differences in preference and structure of movement sequences for lizards of different sex and age groups from the point of their social status.


display; agonistic behavior; social behavior; visual signaling; lizard

Full Text:



Adolph S. C. and Porter W. P. (1993), «Temperature, activity, and lizard life histories», Am. Naturalist, 142, 273 – 295.

Carpenter C. C. (1967), «Aggression and social structure in iguanid lizards», in: Lizard Ecology: A Symposium, Univ. of Missouri Press Columbia, Missouri, USA, pp. 87 – 105.

Dunayev E. A. (1996), «On the possible use of the ethological features in the taxonomy and phylogeny of toad agamas, Phrynocephalus (Reptilia, Agamidae)», Russ. J. Herpetol., 3(1), 32 – 38.

Hammer Ø., Harper D., and Ryan P. (2001), PAST-Palaeontological Statistics, past/pastprog/past.pdf (accessed on February 1, 2015).

Jenssen T. A. and Rothblum L. M. (1977), «Display repertoire analysis of Anolis townsendi (Sauria: Iguanidae) from Cocos Island», Copeia, 1977(1), 103 – 109.

Jenssen T. A., Orrell K. S., and Lovern M. B. (2000), «Sexual dimorphisms in aggressive signal structure and use by a polygynous lizard, Anolis carolinensis», Copeia, 2000, 140 – 149.

Lopez P., Martín J., and Cuadrado M. (2004), «The role of lateral blue spots in intrasexual relationships between male Iberian rock-lizards, Lacerta monticola», Ethology, 110, 543 – 561.

Mahrt L. A. (1998), «Territorial establishment and maintenance by female tree lizards, Urosaurus ornatus», J. Herpetol., 32(2), 176 – 182.

McElroy E. J., Marien C., Meyers J. J., and Irschick D. J. (2007), «Do displays send information about ornament structure and male quality in the ornate tree lizard, Urosaurus ornatusEthology, 113, 1113 – 1122.

Ord T. J., Blumstein D. T., and Evans C. S. (2002), «Ecology and signal evolution in lizards», Biol. J. Linn. Soc., 77, 127 – 148.

Panov E. N., Tsellarius A. Y., and Nepomnyashchikh V. A. (2004), «Motor coordinations in behavior of the toad-headed agama (Phrynocephalus mystaceus; Reptilia, Agamidae): Signal functions and endogenous rhythms», Zool. Zh., 83(8), 971 – 982 [in Russian].

Peters R. A. and Evans C. S. (2003), «Introductory tail-flick of the Jacky dragon visual display: signal efficacy depends upon duration», J. Exp. Biol., 206, 4293 – 4307.

Peters R. A., Ramos J. A., Hernandez J., Wu Y., and Qi Y. (2016), «Social context affects tail displays by Phrynocephalus vlangalii lizards from China», Sci. Rep., 6, 31573.

Qi Y., Li S., Suo L., Li H., and Wang Y. (2011), «An ethogram of the toad-headed lizard Phrynocephalus vlangalii during the breeding season», Asian Herpetol. Res., 2, 110 – 116.

Qi Y., Wan H., Gu H., and Wang Y. (2011), «Do displays and badges function in establishing the social structure of male toad-headed lizards, Phrynocephalus vlangaliiJ. Ethol., 29, 381 – 387.

Qi Y., Noble D. W., Fu J., and Whiting M. J. (2012), «Spatial and social organization in a burrow-dwelling lizard (Phrynocephalus vlangalii) from China», PLoS One, 7, e41130.

Radder R. S., Saidapur S. K., Shine R., and Shanbhag B. A. (2006), «The language of lizards: interpreting the function of visual displays of the Indian rock lizard, Psammophilus dorsalis (Agamidae)», J. Ethol., 24, 275 – 283.

Ross W. (1989), «Notes on ecology and behaviour with special reference to tail signalling in Phrynocephalus maculatus (Reptilia: Agamidae)», Fauna of Saudi Arabia, 10, 417 – 422.

Ross W. (1995), «Tail signalling in populations of Phrynocephalus arabicus, Anderson, 1894 (Reptilia: Agamidae)», Zool. Middle East, 11, 63 – 72.

Wang S., Zeng Z., and Peng-fei W. (2004), «The home range of Phrynocephalus vlangalii», Sichuan Univ. Nat. Sci. Ed., 41, 408 – 411.



  • There are currently no refbacks.

You can subscribe to the print or electronic version of the journal on the site of EastView Company. If you have any questions, please write to the email