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PLoS One. 2014 Oct 29;9(10):e111504. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0111504. eCollection 2014.

Cyclic colour change in the bearded dragon Pogona vitticeps under different photoperiods.

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Centre for Ecology and Conservation, College of Life and Environmental Sciences, University of Exeter, Penryn, United Kingdom; Zoology Department, University of Melbourne, Parkville, Victoria, Australia.
Zoology Department, University of Melbourne, Parkville, Victoria, Australia.


The ability to change colour rapidly is widespread among ectotherms and has various functions including camouflage, communication and thermoregulation. The process of colour change can occur as an aperiodic event or be rhythmic, induced by cyclic environmental factors or regulated by internal oscillators. Despite the importance of colour change in reptile ecology, few studies have investigated the occurrence of a circadian rhythm in lizard pigmentation. Additionally, although colour change also entails changes in near-infrared reflectance, which may affect thermoregulation, little research has examined this part of the spectrum. We tested whether the bearded dragon lizard, Pogona vitticeps, displays an endogenous circadian rhythm in pigmentation changes that could be entrained by light/dark (LD) cycles and how light affected the relative change in reflectance in both ultraviolet-visible and near-infrared spectra. We subjected 11 lizards to four photoperiodic regimens: LD 12:12; LD 6:18; LD 18:6 and DD; and measured their dorsal skin reflectance at 3-hour intervals for 72 hours after a habituation period. A proportion of lizards displayed a significant rhythm under constant darkness, with maximum reflectance occurring in the subjective night. This endogenous rhythm synchronised to the different artificial LD cycles, with maximum reflectance occurring during dark phases, but did not vary in amplitude. In addition, the total ultraviolet-visible reflectance in relation to the total near-infrared reflectance was significantly higher during dark phases than during light phases. We conclude that P. vitticeps exhibits a circadian pigmentation rhythm of constant amplitude, regulated by internal oscillators and that can be entrained by light/dark cycles.

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