The color-mediated thermoregulation hypothesis predicts that dark body color (low reflectance) allows organisms to gain heat more efficiently than does pale coloration (high reflectance). This prediction is intuitive and widely assumed to be true, but has poor empirical support. We used rare, captive-bred, mutant melanistic, albino and wild-type Australian bluetongue lizards, Tiliqua scincoides to measure the effects of skin reflectance on the heating and cooling rates. We measured heating under an artificial radiant heat source and cooling rates in an ice-cooled box using live lizards in a room with still air. The effect of skin reflectance on heat transfer was clear, despite the substantial influence of body size. Melanistic T. scincoides showed low reflectance and gained heat faster than highly reflective albinos. Melanistic lizards also lost heat faster than albinos. Wild-type lizards were intermediate in reflectance, gained heat at rates indistinguishable from melanistic lizards, and lost heat at rates indistinguishable from albino lizards. This study system allowed us to control for variables that were confounded in other studies and may explain the inconsistent support for the color-mediated thermoregulation hypothesis. Our results provide clear evidence that skin reflectance influences the rate of heating and cooling in ectotherms.
- Color-mediated thermoregulation
- Thermal melanism