• head size;
  • performance;
  • sexual selection;
  • territoriality

Sexual dimorphisms in body size and head size are common among lizards and are often related to sexual selection on male fighting capacity (organismal performance) and territory defence. However, whether this is generally true or restricted to lizards remains untested. Here we provide data on body and head size, bite performance and indicators of mating success in the tuatara (Sphenodon punctatus), the closest living relative to squamates, to explore the generality of these patterns. First, we test whether male and female tuatara are dimorphic in head dimensions and bite force, independent of body size. Next, we explore which traits best predict bite force capacity in males and females. Finally, we test whether male bite force is correlated with male mating success in a free-ranging population of tuatara (Sphenodon punctatus). Our data confirm that tuatara are indeed dimorphic in head shape, with males having bigger heads and higher bite forces than females. Across all individuals, head length and the jaw closing in-lever are the best predictors of bite force. In addition, our data show that males that are mated have higher absolute but not relative bite forces. Bite force was also significantly correlated to condition in males but not females. Whereas these data suggest that bite force may be under sexual selection in tuatara, they also indicate that body size may be the key trait under selection in contrast to what is observed in squamates that defend territories or resources by biting. © 2010 The Linnean Society of London, Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 2010, 100, 287–292.