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Mate Selection and Sperm Competition in the Painted Dragon, Ctenophorus pictus, and Other Reptiles

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 (WollongoGreen Anacondang 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:


About Frank Indiviglio

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Being born with a deep interest in animals might seem unfortunate for a native Bronxite , but my family encouraged my interest and the menagerie that sprung from it. Jobs with pet stores and importers had me caring for a fantastic assortment of reptiles and amphibians. After a detour as a lawyer, I was hired as a Bronx Zoo animal keeper and was soon caring for gharials, goliath frogs, king cobras and everything in-between. Research has taken me in pursuit of anacondas, Orinoco crocodiles and other animals in locales ranging from Venezuela’s llanos to Tortuguero’s beaches. Now, after 20+ years with the Bronx Zoo, I am a consultant for several zoos and museums. I have spent time in Japan, and often exchange ideas with zoologists there. I have written books on salamanders, geckos and other “herps”, discussed reptile-keeping on television and presented papers at conferences. A Master’s Degree in biology has led to teaching opportunities. My work puts me in contact with thousands of hobbyists keeping an array of pets. Without fail, I have learned much from them and hope, dear readers, that you will be generous in sharing your thoughts on this blog and web site. For a complete biography of my experience click here.
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