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Gliding Lizards Use Christmas Colors as Camouflage

Dec 27, 2014 11:58 AM EST

Christmas may be just behind us, but for gliding lizards living in Borneo, it lasts all year round. These reptiles use the holiday's characteristic red and green colors as camouflage to avoid being eaten by predatory birds, a new study says.

Draco cornutus have evolved wing-like membranes - called patagia - that resemble the colors of falling leaves around them so that when they glide between trees in the rainforest, they evade detection by hungry birds.

Draco, found throughout Southeast Asia, is the only living genus of lizard with extendable gliding membranes.

"It's a cool finding because these gliding lizards are matching the colors of falling leaves and not the leaves that are still attached to the tree," lead study author Danielle Klomp, from the University of Melbourne, said in a press release. "In the mangrove population the leaves on the trees are bright green, but turn red shortly before falling to the ground, and it is this red color that the lizards mimic in their gliding membranes. This allows them to mimic a moving part of the environment - falling leaves - when they are gliding."

Whereas the other studied population of gliding lizards, which lives in lowland rainforest habitat, has dark brown and green gliding membranes to match the falling leaves in the area.

According to the study, this type of camouflage is highly effective, as the predatory bird cannot distinguish between the lizards' gliding membrane color and that of a falling leaf in the same forest.

"Perhaps these populations may have originally had the same gliding membrane colors," Klomp added, "but as they have moved into different forest types their colors have adapted to closely resemble the colors of falling leaves in the different forests, known as divergent evolution."

The findings were published in the journal Biology Letters.

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