Females of many animal species are polyandrous, meaning that they mate with several males. Often, we are learning, the sperm survives for some time inside the female, and competes with the sperm of other males. In this way, only the “fittest” sperm will prevail and fertilize the eggs, assuring vigorous offspring. Females choose mates based on a wide variety of factors, and the criterion used by Australia’s painted dragon lizards turn out to be quite unique.
In contrast to most lizards, male painted dragons have either red or yellow heads, and are chosen by females based on their head color. Research published this week (Wollongong University) has revealed that female dragons do not choose 1 color over another, but rather seek to mate with 1 male having a red head and 1 with a yellow head.It is theorized that by choosing males of both colors, the female is assuring that she is mating with more than 1 male, and not with the same male twice.
Polyandry among reptiles can result in amazing spectacles – I shall never forget the sight of a huge “breeding ball” – 9 males and 1 female- of green anacondas, Eunectes murinus, on the Venezuelan llanos. In many different animals, sperm can remain alive and able to fertilize eggs for years to come. Queen termites mate once and somehow produce fertilized eggs for up to 20 years after!
Further information concerning research with this species at Wollongong University is available at: