Sunday, July 19, 2015

Rock, Paper, Scissors, Lizard...literally.

Most of you have probably played Rock Paper Scissors. Or maybe Rock Paper Scissors Lizard Spock. But this is a different kind of Rock Paper Scissors. An evolutionary game among lizards. So let's learn the rules of Rock Paper Scissors Lizard Colors.

There are three strategies or color morphs in the side-blotched lizard for this game. If you win depends on throat color. Orange beats blue because they have more testosterone and can chase blue males off. Blue beats yellow, because they work together and defeat the sneaky strategies of yellow-throated specimens. But yet yellow beats orange. The males with yellow throats aren't territorial, but they pretend to be female in order to get onto an orange-throat's territory.

This game of Blue Yellow Orange is popular among West Coast lizards, especially. In the northwest, orange always dominates as they have completely removed yellow and blue from their territory. In other regions, only orange and blue exist. The first to go is always yellow. Always.

Comparing this to our human game of Rock Paper Scissors, I like to picture orange as rock for it is strong and defeats blue scissors and yellow paper. But in some areas, the rules change so that both rock and scissors can defeat paper. If you did this in a game of Rock Paper Scissors with your friends, you would pretty much always win. But you'd have very annoyed friends.

But is this game of Rock Paper Scissors more than it seems? Are Rock, Paper, and Scissors separate species? Not quite yet but they might be subspecies. Long ago, this game was fair. Blue, Yellow, and Orange all existed. But with continual breeding and natural selection, some subspecies that started out as three morphs merely became one morph so evolution dictates who beats who.

Now imagine that Rock Paper Scissors was Rock Rock Rock. You would need to change your strategy and the rules greatly. That's what's happening with lizards. As populations that used to have Rock, Paper, and Scissors morphs are evolving into only Rock morphs, the Rock morphs' adaptations for beating Scissors and Paper now are just useless. So the rules within the genetic code need to be modified for Rock, Rock, and Rock instead of Rock, Paper, and Scissors.


Corl, Ammon, Davis, Alison, Kuchta, Shawn, Sinervo, Barry. "Selective loss of polymorphic mating types is associated with rapid phenotypic evolution during morphic speciation" Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of California, Santa Cruz. 2009.