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anole, antipredator strategy, crypsis, sex difference, tradeoff, visual modeling


Predator-prey interactions drive the evolution of prey visual camouflage, but prey species also often require salience to their conspecifics for social signaling purposes. Whether rapid body color change can help to dynamically balance conspecific visibility and predator concealment, in the eyes of each group’s respective visual systems, remains poorly understood. We tested this question using water anoles (Anolis aquaticus), a small lizard that uses rapid dark-to-light body color change to visually camouflage itself from its avian predators across diverse microhabitats. We used digital image analysis and visual modeling to assess the effectiveness of color-matching camouflage in A. aquaticus, as perceived by anoles and avian predators. Our findings reveal that A. aquaticus body coloration was perceived similarly by both groups. However, sex-specific differences in overall salience emerged, with males less variable in their color matching across microhabitats compared to females. Females showed reduced color matching in their lighter phase, possibly linked to their increased refuge-seeking behavior. In contrast, males may rely more heavily on close-range camouflage possibly due to their increased exposure during territorial defense, potentially explaining the observed correlation of body size and color matching. We highlight the context-dependence of color change, with sex-specific differences and microhabitat substantially affecting its function.

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