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Lizard Pushups: Why territory?

Why is it good to have a territory? Not all animals have territories, and some animals are territorial for only part of the year (seasonal, or conditional territoriality). From a cost/benefit point of view, having a territory is worthwhile when the benefits you gain outweigh the costs of establishing and defending the territory.

What are the possible benefits? It depends on the animal, and their particular circumstances. Some of the more commonly-observed benefits of having a territory are:

  • food -- a territory may be established at a known food source (such as a hummingbird feeder), or where food is likely to appear (near an watering hole, for predatory carnivores).
  • shelter/basking -- a place to hide from predators or from bad weather, to get cool when it's too hot, or a sunny rock to warm up on, can all be important, especially to non-mammals who use behavior and the environment to help regulate their body temperature.
  • mating -- an animal may establish a territory around mates or potential mates.
  • mating -- a territory can include a resource that attracts mates (such as a walnut that attracts female walnut flies looking for a place to lay eggs).
  • care of young -- a good place to lay eggs, or build a nest, or confine youngsters can be crucial to an animal's reproductive success.

What about female lizards -- why do they establish territories?

Recently, researchers have begun to focus on territoriality in female lizards, but such behavior has been studied in only a few species, in particular Urosaurus ornatus ("common tree lizard") and Sceloporus jarrovi ("mountain spiny lizard"). See the "lizard links" and "lizard references" pages at the end of this module for more information.

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