There is strength in diversity, say Anders Forsman and Viktor Åberg of the University of Kalmar in Sweden. The pair looked at 323 species of Australian reptile — 275 lizards and 48 snakes — and found that species that exhibit variable skin patterns have ranges almost three times larger, on average, than do reptile species with less variable colouration. They also live in more habitat types.
The researchers propose that multiple colour patterns reflect combinations of traits that, by evolving together, allow a single species to exploit a range of environments. Fifty of the species studied are classified as threatened, and of those only one (the death adder, Acanthophis antarcticus) showed variable coloration (pictured). So this finding may provide conservationists trying to guage the status of little-surveyed reptiles with a useful rule-of-thumb.