Sex Chromosome Evolution in Lizards: Independent Origins and Rapid Transitions Academic Article uri icon


  • Reptiles epitomize the variability of reproductive and sex determining modes and mechanisms among amniotes. These modes include gonochorism (separate sexes) and parthenogenesis, oviparity, viviparity, and ovoviviparity, genotypic sex determination (GSD) with male (XX/XY) and female (ZZ/ZW) heterogamety and temperature-dependent sex determination (TSD). Lizards (order Squamata, suborder Sauria) are particularly fascinating because the distribution of sex-determining mechanisms shows no clear phylogenetic segregation. This implies that there have been multiple transitions between TSD and GSD, and between XY and ZW sex chromosome systems. Approximately 1,000 species of lizards have been karyotyped and among those, fewer than 200 species have sex chromosomes, yet they display remarkable diversity in morphology and degree of degeneration. The high diversity of sex chromosomes as well as the presence of species with TSD, imply multiple and independent origins of sex chromosomes, and suggest that the mechanisms of sex determination are extremely labile in lizards. In this paper, we review the current state of knowledge of sex chromosomes in lizards and the distribution of sex determining mechanisms and sex chromosome forms within and among families. We establish for the first time an association between the occurrence of female heterogamety and TSD within lizard families, and propose mechanisms by which female heterogamety and TSD may have co-evolved. We suggest that lizard sex determination may be much more the result of an interplay between sex chromosomes and temperature than previously thought, such that the sex determination mode is influenced by the nature of heterogamety as well as temperature sensitivity and the stage of sex chromosome degeneration.


  • Graves, Jenny
  • Ezaz, T
  • Sarre, SD
  • O’Meally, D
  • Marshall Graves, JA
  • Georges, A

publication date

  • 2009