Social costs enforce honesty of a dynamic signal of motivation

Russell A. Ligon, Kevin McGraw

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Scopus citations


Understanding the processes that promote signal reliability may provide important insights into the evolution of diverse signalling strategies among species. The signals that animals use to communicate must comprise mechanisms that prohibit or punish dishonesty, and social costs of dishonesty have been demonstrated for several fixed morphological signals (e.g. colour badges of birds andwasps). The costs maintaining the honesty of dynamic signals, which are more flexible and potentially cheatable, are unknown. Using an experimental manipulation of the dynamic visual signals used by male veiled chameleons (Chamaeleo calyptratus) during aggressive interactions, we tested the idea that the honesty of rapid colour change signals is maintained by social costs. Our results reveal that social costs are an important mechanism maintaining the honesty of these dynamic colour signals-‘dishonest’ chameleons whose experimentally manipulated coloration was incongruent with their contest behaviour received more physical aggression than ‘honest’ individuals. This is the first demonstration, to the best our knowledge, that the honesty of a dynamic signal of motivation-physiological colour change- can be maintained by the social costliness of dishonesty. Behavioural responses of signal receivers, irrespective of any specific detection mechanisms, therefore prevent chameleon cheaters from prospering.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number20161873
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1841
StatePublished - Oct 26 2016


  • Chameleons
  • Colour
  • Communication
  • Conventional signals
  • Physiological colour change
  • Signalling

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Immunology and Microbiology(all)
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Environmental Science(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)


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