Doing the dewlap

Every time I look out in the yard, I see a lizard "doing the dewlap." Lizards must love doing the dewlap, because they seem to do it all the time. But what is a dewlap anyway, and what purpose does it serve?

A dewlap is a flap of skin that hangs below the lower jaw of many vertebrates, such as moose, chickens, and some dogs. Some people are even said to have dewlaps. However, in my opinion, the best dewlaps are found on lizards - especially the anoles that are very common here in South Florida. Both males and females have them, but they are more prominent on males. While it looks like the anoles are inflating their dewlaps like some kind of showy sack, they are actually contracting muscles that push a bone outward. This causes the flap of skin to be revealed, along with beautifully colored scales.

Green anole with dewlap extended, revealing beautiful pink scales.

Green anole with dewlap extended, revealing beautiful pink scales.

Front view showing how narrow the dewlap is.

Front view showing how narrow the dewlap is.

Before they do the dewlap, anoles usually do what appear to be push-ups. This routine is unique to each species, and helps anoles recognize their own kind. Conveniently, the push-ups also help photographers get ready to catch anoles in the act of doing the dewlap.

Doing the dewlap can help males show off to females during mating season. How could a gal resist that? The dewlap display also helps males defend their territory by making them appear larger and mightier than they really are. But when anoles need to be camouflaged, the dewlap stays tidily out of sight.

The next time you see a lizard doing the dewlap, take a moment to admire his manly push-ups and beautifully colored scales, and ask yourself: is he warning me, or flirting with me?

Cuban brown anole doing the dewlap.

Cuban brown anole doing the dewlap.


Click here to sign up for the Nature Notes email newsletter. The next time I add a new blog entry, you'll be among the first to know.

Powered by SmugMug Owner Log In