Melanism in common lizards (Squamata: Lacertidae: Zootoca vivipara): new evidence for a rare but widespread ancestral polymorphism

Hans Recknagel, Megan Layton, Ruth Carey, Henrique Leitão, Mark Sutherland, Kathryn R Elmer


The presence of a dark-coloured body colouration polymorphism (melanism) is a pervasive phenomenon in the animal kingdom, particularly in reptiles. We provide the first reporting of melanic individuals in a subspecies of common lizards, Zootoca vivipara carniolica or the Eastern oviparous lineage. Two melanic females were found out of 194 individuals collected. Melanic females did not differ in size or weight from non-melanic females. No melanic individuals were found (N = 134) in the nearby viviparous population. Melanism has been reported in related lineages of Z. vivipara, so the discovery in this sister to all other lineages suggests that it is an ancestral polymorphism. The frequency of melanism varies but other studies also find it is usually very rare (<3%) and may be sex-biased. The processes mediating advantages and disadvantages of melanism in Z. vivipara are unclear and require more research.

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