These Lizards Have Been Playing Rock-Paper-Scissors for 15 Million Years | Deep Look

These Lizards Have Been Playing Rock-Paper-Scissors for 15 Million Years  | Deep Look


Out here in California’s serene central
valley… there’s a game underway. One animal is locked in a perpetual, unwinnable
cycle of rock paper scissors. A three-way competition that’s been raging
for millennia. Meet the side-blotched lizard, named for that
patch of dark color on its side. These lizards are all one species. But they
have three different colors. You see it on their throats. Some are more orange. Others more blue, or yellow. Each male lizard has a different trick for
getting a mate that corresponds to their color. Orange? These guys are the brutes. The meatheads. Bigger, stronger. They set up territories with lots of females
and defend them aggressively. Yellow? These guys are sneaky. They don’t
try to hold territories. Instead, they hide and then dart in — as
often as they can — for a chance to mate with an unguarded female. Blues have a whole other strategy. They’re monogamous. They put all their focus
on just one female. Researchers at UC Santa Cruz figured out the game. So here’s how it plays out, the rock paper
scissors part: Orange beats Blue. They’re bigger and more aggressive. Yellow beats Orange. Because Oranges can’t keep track of all those females. It’s easy for Yellows to sneak by them. Blue beats yellows. Because blues are vigilant. Yellows can’t fool them. And while we’re on these Blues? Because they’re monogamous, they aren’t
competitive with other Blues. They cooperate with each other, make friends. Even warn their Blue neighbors when intruders are nearby — see those little pushups? In fact, they’ve been known to risk their
own lives for other Blues. It’s called altruism. Even Darwin didn’t imagine this could happen. Anyway. You might think that over time one color would
prevail — like, those altruistic Blues would win. The whole species would gradually become blue. But with these guys, it doesn’t happen. Each color is kept in check by one of the
other colors. And if one of the colors starts to fall behind,
the females bring it back in line. Because they tend to prefer whatever color
male is most rare that season. So if Blues are getting the upper hand, females
go for Yellows or Oranges. If the females were to have a change of heart
and stop going for the underdog… well, then one color might win out, another might disappear
entirely. In other words, the species would evolve,
change. But for the last 15 million years that hasn’t
happened. It’s an ancient game of roshambo – with no end in sight. Hey! While you admire this other resident
of California’s central valley, consider subscribing to Deep Look. You’ll be the first to know when new episodes
are up. And if you’re feeling altruistic, share your thoughts in the comments section. We read every single one. Thanks, and see you next time!

100 Comments on "These Lizards Have Been Playing Rock-Paper-Scissors for 15 Million Years | Deep Look"


  1. You'd think we'd be getting smarter but instead we're still swallowing this evolution and billions of years ago BS

    Reply

  2. Disappointing. I wanted to see little lizard hands play real rock paper scissors. 🤷‍♀️

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  3. I need more proof that the blues warn others blues. Showing me a video of one doing a pushup isn't really proof.

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  4. Same can be said about human skin colors. Not the personality aspects but the whole end part where she mentioned if women chose one. So if women only chose to date dark skinned guys…whites would be eliminated
    In 80 to 100 years

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  5. Haha this is great, but aw man, I was really hoping to see species of lizards whose front claws, when at rest, were either curled or pointed, in the approximate shape of actual rock/paper/scissors.. Well played. 😄

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  6. Man, I didn't even think such a thing was possible in nature. Color-coded lizards just seems too convenient.

    I wonder if the coloration is hormonally influenced, which could link color to their behavioral strategies.

    Reply

  7. You skipped over a detail here:
    How does one colour "win" over the other? Preference by the females?
    If the females just always prefer the underdog, then there wouldn't be a direction between the colours, but antagonism and counterbalancing in all directions.

    Reply

  8. So basically:
    Orange: Get away from my girl
    Yellow:I’ll get her from behind!
    Blue:so um I was wondering…..if um…. screams and runs away

    Reply

  9. THAT WAS GEICO RACIST
    You did not put a name to the multicolor ones. Like Hermaphrodites 😲.

    Reply

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