Widespread bone-based fluorescence in chameleons

David Prötzel, Martin Heß, Mark D. Scherz, Martina Schwager, Anouk van 't Padje, Frank Glaw*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review

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Abstract

Fluorescence is widespread in marine organisms but uncommon in terrestrial tetrapods. We here show that many chameleon species have bony tubercles protruding from the skull that are visible through their scales, and fluoresce under UV light. Tubercles arising from bones of the skull displace all dermal layers other than a thin, transparent layer of epidermis, creating a 'window' onto the bone. In the genus Calumma, the number of these tubercles is sexually dimorphic in most species, suggesting a signalling role, and also strongly reflects species groups, indicating systematic value of these features. Co-option of the known fluorescent properties of bone has never before been shown, yet it is widespread in the chameleons of Madagascar and some African chameleon genera, particularly in those genera living in forested, humid habitats known to have a higher relative component of ambient UV light. The fluorescence emits with a maximum at around 430 nm in blue colour which contrasts well to the green and brown background reflectance of forest habitats. This discovery opens new avenues in the study of signalling among chameleons and sexual selection factors driving ornamentation.

Original languageEnglish
Article number698
Pages (from-to)1-9
Number of pages9
JournalScientific Reports
Volume8
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 15 Jan 2018

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