Breaking the Social–Non-social Dichotomy: A Role for Reptiles in Vertebrate Social Behavior Research?



J. Sean Doody, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Tennessee, 569 Dabney Hall, Knoxville, TN 37996-1610, USA.



Although social behavior in vertebrates spans a continuum from solitary to highly social, taxa are often dichotomized as either ‘social’ or ‘non-social’. We argue that this social dichotomy is overly simplistic, neglects the diversity of vertebrate social systems, impedes our understanding of the evolution of social behavior, and perpetuates the erroneous belief that one group—the reptiles—is primarily ‘non-social’. This perspective essay highlights the diversity and complexity of reptile social systems, briefly reviews reasons for their historical neglect in research, and indicates how reptiles can contribute to our understanding of the evolution of vertebrate social behavior. Although a robust review of social behavior across vertebrates is lacking, the repeated evolution of social systems in multiple independent lineages enables investigation of the factors that promote shifts in vertebrate social behavior and the paraphyly of reptiles reinforces the need to understand reptile social behavior.