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J Morphol. 2002 May;252(2):145-69.

History and function of scale microornamentation in lacertid lizards.

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  • 1Natural History Museum, Cromwell Road, London SW7 5BD, UK. ena@nhm.ac.uk


Differences in surface structure (ober-hautchen) of body scales of lacertid lizards involve cell size, shape and surface profile, presence or absence of fine pitting, form of cell margins, and the occurrence of longitudinal ridges and pustular projections. Phylogenetic information indicates that the primitive pattern involved narrow strap-shaped cells, with low posteriorly overlapping edges and relatively smooth surfaces. Deviations from this condition produce a more sculptured surface and have developed many times, although subsequent overt reversals are uncommon. Like variations in scale shape, different patterns of dorsal body microornamentation appear to confer different and conflicting performance advantages. The primitive pattern may reduce friction during locomotion and also enhances dirt shedding, especially in ground-dwelling forms from moist habitats. However, this smooth microornamentation generates shine that may compromise cryptic coloration, especially when scales are large. Many derived features show correlation with such large scales and appear to suppress shine. They occur most frequently in forms from dry habitats or forms that climb in vegetation away from the ground, situations where dirt adhesion is less of a problem. Microornamentation differences involving other parts of the body and other squamate groups tend to corroborate this functional interpretation. Microornamentation features can develop on lineages in different orders and appear to act additively in reducing shine. In some cases different combinations may be optimal solutions in particular environments, but lineage effects, such as limited reversibility and different developmental proclivities, may also be important in their genesis. The fine pits often found on cell surfaces are unconnected with shine reduction, as they are smaller than the wavelengths of most visible light.

Copyright 2002 Wiley-Liss, Inc.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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