Macroevolution of sexually selected weapons: weapon evolution in chameleons

Melissa Van Kleeck-Hann, John J. Wiens

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


The evolution of sexually selected traits is a major topic in evolutionary biology. However, large-scale evolutionary patterns in these traits remain understudied, especially those traits used in male–male competition (weapons sensu lato). Here, we analyze weapon evolution in chamaeleonid lizards, both within and between the sexes. Chameleons are an outstanding model system because of their morphological diversity (including 11 weapon types among ~220 species) and a large-scale time-calibrated phylogeny. We analyze these 11 traits among 165 species using phylogenetic methods, addressing many questions for the first time in any group. We find that all 11 weapons have each evolved multiple times and that weapon origins are generally more frequent than their losses. We find that almost all weapons have each persisted for >30 million years (and some for >65 million years). Across chameleon phylogeny, we identify both hotspots for weapon evolution (up to 10 types present per species) and coldspots (all weapons absent, many through loss). These hotspots are significantly associated with larger male body size, but are only weakly related to sexual-size dimorphism. We also find that weapon evolution is strongly correlated between males and females. Overall, these results provide a baseline for understanding large-scale patterns of weapon evolution within clades.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2277-2290
Number of pages14
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 2023


  • lizard
  • macroevolution
  • male–male competition
  • phylogeny
  • sexual dimorphism
  • sexual selection

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Genetics
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences


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