Diurnal lizards are useful model organisms for the study of color polymorphisms. The cellular basis of nonavian reptilian coloration and dermal chromatophores, as well as the different pigments contained therein, is relatively well understood. Nonetheless, specific predictions cannot be made for the biochemical chromatophore constituents of individual species a priori. Despite well-documented associations between throat coloration and behavioral, physiological, and life history traits, the cellular basis of throat coloration in polymorphic Common Side-Blotched Lizards, Uta stansburiana, has never been studied. We used a combination of chromatographic techniques in conjunction with transmission electron microscopy and a thin-layer reflectance model to determine the cellular basis of polymorphic coloration in U. stansburiana. We found that different morphs express coloration through varying spatial arrangements of dietary xanthophylls (lutein and zeaxanthin), differential synthesis of drosopterins, differential melanin synthesis, and morph-specific iridophore reflecting platelets. Our results indicate that chromatic variations in this polymorphism cannot be attributed to alternative xanthophore pigmentation or structural reflectance alone. Instead, the chromatophores of U. stansburiana are multicomponent color signals.
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