Skin lipids of the striped plateau lizard (Sceloporus virgatus) correlate with female receptivity and reproductive quality alongside visual ornaments

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The Science of Nature




Sex pheromones can perform a variety of functions ranging from revealing the location of suitable mates to being honest signals of mate quality, and they are used in the mate selection process by many species of reptile. In this study, we determined whether the skin lipids of female striped plateau lizards (Sceloporus virgatus) can predict the reproductive quality of females, thereby having the potential to serve as pheromones. Using gas chromatography/mass spectrometry we identified 17 compounds present in skin lipids of female lizards. Using principal component analysis to compare the skin lipid profile of receptive and non-receptive females, we determined that an uncharacterized compound may allow for chemical identification of receptive mates. We also compared extracted principal components to measures of female fitness and reproductive qualities and found that the level of two 18 carbon fatty acids present in a female’s skin lipids may indicate her clutch size. Finally we compared the information content of the skin lipids to that of female-specific color ornaments to assess whether chemical and visual cues transmit different information or not. We found that the chroma of a female’s orange throat patch is related to her clutch size, thereby suggesting that chemical signals reinforce the information communicated by visual ornamentation in this species and supporting the ‘backup signals’ hypothesis for multiple signals.