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Rock, paper, scissors, lizard

3 minutes

How multicoloured side-blotched lizards put game theory into evolutionary action

The side-blotched lizard, native to the sprawling Central Valley in California, has one of nature’s most fascinating breeding patterns. The males of the species come in three different colour varieties – blue, orange and yellow – with each colour corresponding to a different mating strategy. According to researchers at the University of California, Santa Cruz, each variety has a mating advantage over one of its competitors but a disadvantage in relation to the other, which is why male side-blotched lizards have been locked in an ongoing evolutionary stalemate for millennia. And when things get out of balance, the females step in to set things right. Amazingly, this evolutionary game of rock, paper, scissors has continued for 15 million years.

Producer: John Cassidy

Video by KQED Science and PBS Digital Studios

Narrator and Writer: Amy Standen

Support Aeon

Ideas can change the world

Aeon is a registered charity committed to the spread of knowledge and a cosmopolitan worldview.

But we can’t do it without you.

Aeon is a registered charity committed to the spread of knowledge and a cosmopolitan worldview. Our mission is to create a sanctuary online for serious thinking.

No ads, no paywall, no clickbait – just thought-provoking ideas from the world’s leading thinkers, free to all. But we can’t do it without you.

Become a Friend for $5 a month or Make a one-off donation

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