Colour signals play a key role in regulating the intensity and outcome of animal contests. Males of the common wall lizard (Podarcis muralis) show conspicuous ventrolateral ultraviolet (UV)-blue and black patches. In addition, some populations express a striking ventral colour polymorphism (i.e., discrete orange, white and yellow morphs). In this study, we set out to evaluate the potential signalling function of these colour patches by staging pairwise combats between 60 size-matched adult lizards (20 per morph). Combats were held in a neutral arena, with each lizard facing rivals from the three morphs in a tournament with a balanced design. We then calculated a fighting ability ranking using the Bradley–Terry model, and used it to explore whether ventral colour morph, the size of UV-blue and black patches or the spectral characteristics of UV-blue patches (i.e., brightness, hue, chroma) are good predictors of fighting ability. We did not find an effect of the UV-blue patches on contest outcome, but the size of black patches emerged as a good predictor of fighting ability. We also found that winners were more aggressive when facing rivals with black patches of similar size, suggesting that black patches play a role in rival assessment and fighting rules. Finally, we found that orange males lost fights against heteromorphic males more often than yellow or white males. In light of these results, we discuss the potential signalling function of ventrolateral and ventral colour patches in mediating agonistic encounters in this species.
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