Selection should favour coloration in organisms that is more conspicuous to their own visual system than to those of their predators or prey. We tested this prediction in Dickerson's collared lizard (Crotaphytus dickersonae), a sexually dichromatic desert reptile that preys on insects and smaller lizard species, and which in turn is prey for birds and snakes. We modelled the spectral sensitivities of the lizards and their avian and snake predators, and compared the conspicuousness of the lizards' entire colour patterns with each class of viewers. Almost all comparisons involving females strongly supported our prediction for greater chromatic and brightness conspicuousness against local terrestrial visual backgrounds to their own modelled visual system than to those of avian and snake predators. Males, in contrast, exhibited far fewer cases of greater conspicuousness to their own visual system than to those of their predators. Our own perception of spectral similarity between blue C. dickersonae males and a local nonterrestrial visual background (i.e. the Sea of Cortéz) prompted a further investigation. We compared sea (and sky) radiance with dorsum radiance of C. dickersonae males and with males from two distantly-related Crotaphytus collaris populations in which males possess blue bodies. In all three visual models, C. dickersonae males exhibited significantly lower chromatic contrast with the sea (and sky) than did their noncoastal, blue-bodied congeners. Among potential explanations, the blue body coloration that is unique to male C. dickersonae may offset, if only slightly, the cost of visibility to predators (and to prey) through reduced contrast against the extensive, local, nonterrestrial blue backgrounds of the sea and sky. © 2009 The Linnean Society of London, Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 2009, 97, 749–765.