The Ontogeny of Escape Behavior, Locomotor Performance, and Hind Limb Morphology in Sceloporus woodi

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Flight initiation distance describes the distance at which an animal flees during the approach of a predator. This distance presumably reflects the tradeoff between the benefits of fleeing versus the benefits of remaining stationary. Throughout ontogeny, the costs and benefits of flight may change substantially due to growth-related changes in sprint speed; thus ontogenetic variation in flight initiation distance may be substantial. If escape velocity is essential for surviving predator encounters, then juveniles should either tolerate short flight initiation distances and rely on crypsis, or should have high flight initiation distances to remain far away from their predators. We examined this hypothesis in a small, short-lived lizard (Sceloporus woodi). Flight initiation distance and escape velocity were recorded on an ontogenetic series of lizards in the field. Maximal running velocity was also quantified in a laboratory raceway to establish if escape velocities in the field compared with maximal velocities as measured in the lab. Finally a subset of individuals was used to quantify how muscle and limb size scale with body size throughout ontogeny. Flight initiation distance increased with body size; larger animals had higher flight initiation distances. Small lizards had short flight initiation distances and remained immobile longer, thus relying on crypsis for concealment. Escape velocity in the field did not vary with body size, yet maximum velocity in the lab did increase with size. Hind limb morphology scaled isometrically with body size. Isometric scaling of the hind limb elements and its musculature, coupled with similarities in sprint and escape velocity across ontogeny, demonstrate that smaller S. woodi must rely on crypsis to avoid predator encounters, whereas adults alter their behavior via larger flight initiation distance and lower (presumably less expensive) escape velocities.