Document Type

Journal Article


University of Chicago Press


Faculty of Business and Law


School of Marketing, Tourism and Leisure / Centre for Ecosystem Management




This article was originally published as: Clemente, C., Withers, P., & Thompson, G. G. (2012). Optimal Body Size with Respect to Maximal Speed for the Yellow-Spotted Monitor Lizard (Varanus panoptes; Varanidae). Physiological and Biochemical Zoology, 85(3), 265-273. Original article available here


Studies of locomotor performance often link variation in morphology with ecology. While maximum sprint speed is a commonly used performance variable, the absolute limits for this performance trait are not completely understood. Absolute maximal speed has often been shown to increase linearly with body size, but several comparative studies covering a large range of body sizes suggest that maximal speed does not increase indefinitely with body mass but rather reaches an optimum after which speed declines. Because of the comparative nature of these studies, it is difficult to determine whether this decrease is due to biomechanical constraints on maximal speed or is a consequence of phylogenetic inertia or perhaps relaxed selection for lower maximal speed at large body size. To explore this issue, we have examined intraspecific variations in morphology, maximal sprint speed, and kinematics for the yellowspotted monitor lizard Varanus panoptes, which varied in body mass from 0.09 to 5.75 kg. We show a curvilinear relationship between body size and absolute maximal sprint speed with an optimal body mass with respect to speed of 1.245 kg. This excludes the phylogenetic inertia hypothesis, because this effect should be absent intraspecifically, while supporting the biomechanical constraints hypothesis. The relaxed selection hypothesis cannot be excluded if there is a size-based behavioral shift intraspecifically, but the biomechanical constraints hypothesis is better supported from kinematic analyses. Kinematic measurements of hind limb movement suggest that the distance moved by the body during the stance phase may limit maximum speed. This limit is thought to be imposed by a decreased ability of the bones and muscles to support body mass for larger lizards.