• Bite forces;
  • bite modelling;
  • prey toughness

1. Two often cited hypotheses explaining sexual head size dimorphism in lizards are: sexual selection acting on structures important in intrasexual competition, and reduction of intersexual competition through food niche separation.

2. In this study some implicit assumptions of the latter hypothesis were tested, namely that an increase in gape distance and bite force should accompany the observed increase in head size. These assumptions are tested by recording bite forces, in vivo, for lizards of the species Gallotia galloti. In this species, male lizards have significantly larger heads than female conspecifics of similar snout–vent length.

3. Additionally, the average force needed to crush several potential prey species was determined experimentally and compared with the bite force data. This comparison clearly illustrates that animals of both sexes can bite much harder than required for most insect food items, which does not support the niche divergence hypothesis. The apparent ‘excess’ bite force in both sexes might be related to the partially herbivorous diet of the animals.

4. To unravel the origin of differences between sexes in bite capacity, the crushing phase of biting was modelled. The results of this model show different strategies in allocation of muscle tissue between both sexes. The origin of this difference is discussed and a possible evolutionary pathway of the development of the sexual dimorphism in the species is provided.