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Keywords:

  • achromatic contrast;
  • antipredator behaviour;
  • chromatic contrast;
  • crypsis;
  • geographical variation

Potential prey are often exposed to multiple predators that vary in their foraging tactics and ability to detect prey. For animals that rely on crypsis to avoid predators, one solution is to alter their behaviour or appearance to maximize crypsis in ways that are specific to different types of predator. We tested whether dwarf chameleons (Bradypodion transvaalense) showed different behavioural responses, including colour change, towards multiple predators (bird and snake models) that detect and capture prey in different ways, and whether these antipredator responses varied geographically. Chameleons consistently used the same body postures (lateral compression and flipping to the opposite side of the branch) and displayed similar chromatic (colour) contrast against the natural background in response to both predator types. However, they became significantly more achromatically contrasting (brighter) in the presence of the snake compared to the bird. This relative difference in achromatic contrast towards the two types of predator was consistent among populations. There were also significant differences in both absolute achromatic and chromatic contrast among populations despite very similar light environment, background coloration and habitat structure. Our results highlight facultative crypsis as one type of flexible antipredator tactic and emphasize the importance of visual ecology in understanding prey–predator interactions. © 2006 The Linnean Society of London, Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 2006, 88, 437–446.