More Examples of Different Dewlap Colors in Males and Females

dewlap dimorphism

In a recent post, we discussed the description of two new Costa Rican anoles, but didn’t draw attention to the fact that all members of the A. pachypus species complex exhibit dewlap dichromatism, with the dewlaps of males and females differing within a species. Shown here are differences in A. tropidolepis (top) and A. pachypus (bottom). The images on the right are females and the left and center are males.

In a previous post, we discussed this phenomenon, but its explanation still escapes us. Interestingly, it occurs almost exclusively in mainland anoles.

Which Anole Is That in the Addams Family Dollhouse?


anole skeletonJoe Martinez of the Museum of Comparative Zoology writes in: “I was recently contacted by Samantha Grantham, the collections manager of the Wenham Museum in Wenham Massachusetts, who would appreciate learning the identification of a lizard skeleton that resides in the Coffin Room of their Addams Family dollhouse. The dollhouse was constructed locally, presumably with artifacts that were readily available.

It appears to be an anole and Anolis carolinensis would have been available through the pet trade at that time. Anolis sagrei may have begun showing up in the pet trade as well by then. Can anyone give an authoritative identification?”

And want to learn more about the Addams Family Dollhouse? There’s a whole blog devoted to it!


New Book on the Anoles of Honduras


johnsmeyersiMcCranie and Köhler have just published an authoritative account of the 39 species of Honduran anoles. Rich in detail and thorough in coverage, this volume will be of interest to anyone interested in neotropical herpetology.

Harvard University Press’s description says it all: Caribbean members of this group have been intensively studied and have become a model system for the study of ecology, evolution, and biogeography, but knowledge of the anoles of Central and South America has lagged behind. In this landmark volume, veteran herpetologists James R. McCranie and Gunther Köhler take a step toward rectifying this shortcoming by providing a detailed account of the rich anole fauna of Honduras. Generously illustrated with 157 photos and drawings, The Anoles of Honduras includes information on the evolutionary relationships, natural history, distribution, and conservation of all 39 Honduran anole species. The work is the result of decades of study both in the field and in museums and is the first synthetic discussion of the complete anole fauna of any Central or South American country. Each species is described in great detail with locality maps. Bilingual (English and Spanish), extensively illustrated identification keys are also included.

Distribution maps are provided for all species.

Distribution maps are provided for all species.

Like all publications of the Bulletin of the MCZ and Breviora, the book is freely available as a pdf on the journal’s website. But a pdf just doesn’t look right on a bookshelf, not to mention getting soggy in the field. For those who really  want to get the most out of this volume, why not consider purchasing it from Harvard University Press for only $24.95 (not bad for a 280 page volume jam-packed with color photos!)? And it’s even cheaper on Amazon (currently $20.48).


Help Identify Anole from Guyana

Photo by Thadaigh Baggallay

Thadaigh Baggallay writes: “I took this picture in Kaieteur National Park, Guyana. Anolis chrysolepis perhaps?”

Looks to me like whichever chrysolepis-type anole occurs in Guyana. Exactly a year ago today, we had a post on a new field guide to Guyanan herps by Cole et al. which probably would help. According to that guide, I believe the species would be A. planiceps. Any thoughts any one?


Neat Ditty About a Thermoregulating Lizard

Screen Shot 2015-02-22 at 10.26.03 PMHarry Bird and the Rubber Wellies is described as a nomadic folk band, and they’re based out of Dublin, Ireland and Bilbao, in the Basque Country of Spain. Maybe it’s the cold rainy climes of both those places that inspired these musicians to create a wistful song about a tropical lizard basking on a palm tree. It’s a catchy tune, so check it out.

Here are some of the lyrics from the song:

“When Sun come out / Out come the lizard / Lazing around / And a’flicking her tail/ When Sun go home / Home go the lizard / Till the Sun come out again.”

“See the way she slide / My, what a lizard! / She got so many beautiful scales / She the way she shine.”

“Oh she’s catching flies / That greedy lizard / Her long sticky tongue / Doesn’t make any sound / She gets pomegranate / Out of the cupboard / That’s the way to wash them down.”


Video of Anolis pentaprion Displaying

Little is known about the Central American twig anole, but it does have a beautiful dewlap! In recent years, what used to be known as A. pentaprion has been split into a large number of species, the most recently described of which is A. triumphalis. (Editor’s note: Gunther Kohler points out that this is one of the newly named species, A. charlesmyersi).

Here’s the backstory from the videographer who posted this on Youtube: Greetings Casa Alta Vista, Costa Rica. That video was shot about 15 feet above ground, on the guava wood handrail that goes up my stairs. Our house is a rustic style “pole” house, constructed from plantation grown gmelina and teak woods. We are located about 2 miles inland of the shores of Golfo Dulce , Costa Rica, at about 600 feet elev. in a mostly second growth seasonally dry rainforest. Dry season from Dec to April, then usually 300 inches of rain , a lot of which is in September-October usually. We are across the gulf from Corcovado National Park . Maybe 15 miles as the toucan flies. The area around the house was pasture up until about 20 years ago, but now pretty lush with second growth. Fairly undeveloped, and there is some primary growth surrounding us down in the “quebradas” or streams that are all around here. Down there we have stream anoles, and lots of snakes and critters. Saw a bushmaster down there once . Yikes. We also see slender anoles (I think) but they aren’t very “brown” and the yellow spot on the dewlap isn’t as prominent as the picture in my book . We also sometimes see the dry forest anole, which seems to trade off the territory of my deck railing system with the lichen anoles. We see green anoles down on some of the fruit trees we have planted as well. Amazing creatures all, they don’t seem fearful of us, and maintain eye contact . And will bite of course if they are provoked and can catch hold of you. I once had a full grown basilisk lizard that I was rescuing from some dogs bite me nicely on the hand. We have really a lot of all kinds of wildlife here. The birding is great, and we have a large troop of mono titi’s (squirrel monkeys) that occasionally traverse our back deck, peek in the windows, and move on to eat guabo beans in the trees surrounding our house. We’re built about 4 meters off the ground, not a treehouse , but kind of up in the trees .
My camera is new, and I will be posting other animal videos soon. And will try to get more anole videos.

Editor’s Update, 2/23/2015:

Here’s another clip of the same animal:

Geographic Variation in the Mainland Grass Anole Anolis auratus

Photo by James Christensen

Anolis auratus is one of the most widespread mainland anoles, with a range stretching from Costa Rica through much of northern top of South America on both sides of the Andes. It’s biology is surprisingly little known, though it is thought to be a grassland species; that and it’s morphological similarity to grass-inhabiting Caribbean anoles has led some to argue that this species is a member of the grass-bush ecomorph category.

Given it’s wide range in Colombia traversing the Andes, the species is ripe for investigation of geographic variation, and that is just what Martha Calderón-Espinosa and Leidy Alejandra Barragán-Contreras did, examining a large number of museum specimens in the collection of the Instituto de Ciencias Naturales, Universidad Nacional de Colombia. Their work was recently published in Acta Biológica Colombiana. The abstract is appended below, but to make a not-so-long story short, sexual dimorphism exists for several characteristics independent of body size (the sexes don’t vary in size), and these same characters vary geographically. What this means about variation in habitat use of the species across its range remains to be studied.


Anolis auratus is a widely distributed species, from Costa Rica in Central America, through northern South America, including Colombia, Venezuela, northern Brazil, Surinam and the Guyanas. In Colombia, its widespread distribution across different life zones suggests that these lizards occupy different environments and exhibit different microhabitat use in different geographic areas. On the other hand, some observations suggest that this species prefers open areas, selecting grasslands over brushy areas, and thus, an alternative hypothesis is that microhabitat use is similar among different populations. In Anolis, body variables related to locomotion (body size and shape) define structural microhabitat use, so two distinct patterns could be expected in this species: conservative or highly variable body size and shape throughout the species distribution. To test these predictions, we characterized geographic variation in morphometric traits of this species in Colombia. Females and males were similar in body size, but exhibited differences in some variables related to body shape. These characteristics also varied among males and females from different regions, suggesting heterogeneous use of structural microhabitat, between sexes and among populations. As an alternative, phylogenetic divergence among populations could also account for the observed differences. Absence of ecological and phylogenetic data limits our ability to identify the underlying causes of this pattern. However, we provide a general framework to explore hypotheses about evolution of body size and shape in this species.

Panamanian Anole Population in Decline


Left: A. apletophallus. Right: Decline in abundance of A. apletophallus on BCI

Left: A. apletophallus. Right: Decline in abundance of A. apletophallus on BCI

Monitoring populations over long time scales is one of the most important endeavours in ecology, but maintaining funding over decades is a huge challenge when the tenure of most research grants is only 3 years. The Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) has made a concerted effort to address this problem and established long-term monitoring of animals (including an anole), plants and environmental variables on Barro Colorado Island (BCI) and the nearby forests surrounding the Panama Canal. These data provide a rare glimpse into the long-term changes in populations and climate in the tropics.

Recently, we used these data to investigate how population abundance of the anolis lizard Anolis apletophallus has changed over time and whether climate was related to abundance and population growth rate. The study recently published in PLOS ONE identified a decline in lizard abundance over the 40-yr study period. We also observed boom and bust fluctuations in population abundance and found that cycles in population growth rate were related to global weather cycles known as el nino and la nina. Specifically, population growth rate was lower one year after el nino (warmer-drier) events. This decline in abundance and the negative relationship of population growth rate with el nino events is alarming, as el nino events are expected to increase in frequency and severity in the future. Changes in the abundance of this lizard may also have knock-on effects to many other animals in the forest because these lizards are eaten by a range of animals including birds, snakes, other lizards, spiders, ants, bats, monkeys and opossums.

The long-term decline in abundance that we identified is consistent with findings of another long-term study of amphibians and reptiles in Cost Rica by Whitfield et al in 2007. In their study they identified a decline in the leaf litter amphibians and reptiles and suggest this is due to a climate driven reduction in leaf litter. In a more recent follow-up study they provide further evidence of this. Although, we did not measure leaf litter, there is no evidence of a reduction in leaf litter on BCI. The parallel declines that were observed in Panama and Cost Rica are worrying and emphasize the importance of long-term data to help us understand how anole populations are coping with climate change.

Most of the hundreds of researchers that visit STRI’s research station on BCI scarcely notice the anoles. Some are drawn to the monkeys or bats, but most are there to study tropical forest ecology making use of the famous 50ha plot: a forest plot where every free standing tree has been measured every five years since 1980. I can understand how some might overlook the anoles in the forest, they can be extremely well camouflaged, but as readers of AA know, anoles are also highly conspicuous.


Left: Spot the A. apletophallus on the forest floor. Right: Male A. apletophallus displaying

Thankfully, BCI’s anoles have not always been overlooked. The most abundant anole on BCI is Anolis apletophallus (previously limifrons), so abundant that Stan Rand, STRI’s world-renowned herpetologist, described it as the ‘most abundant vertebrate in the forest.’ Thanks in part to Stan’s interest in this little brown anole, the species was the focus of much research on BCI in 70-80s most notably by Robin Andrews. Robin’s research on the ecology, physiology and life history of A. apletophallus remains some of the most detailed knowledge of a mainland anole today. Her work also had a lasting legacy at STRI, and the population monitoring that she began still continues today, some 44 years on.

The annual census, which has been continually funded by STRI, has been able to persist largely because of the efforts of STRI scientists. Continue reading

Two New Species of Fan-Throated Lizards from Sri Lanka

Fan-throated lizards (Sitana) are one of the Indian Subcontinent’s most widespread and charismatic lizards, found in many of the region’s drier, scrubbier habitats. Not surprisingly, lizards across this vast range vary dramatically, most strikingly in the size and coloration of the throat-fans for which they’re named. Everyone has long suspected that the lizards in this genus must belong to several different species, and Sitana taxonomy has been long overdue for an upheaval.

Coloured-fanned, intermediate-fanned, and white-fanned male Sitana ponticeriana. Photographs by Shrikant Ranade, Jahnavi Pai, and Jitendra Katre respectively.

Sitana from India. Photographs by Shrikant Ranade, Jahnavi Pai, and Jitendra Katre.

The beginning of the revolution is finally here! Amarasinghe et al. (2015) have just published descriptions of two new species of fan-throated lizards, both from Sri Lanka. The authors also clarify some of the very confusing taxonomic and nomenclatural history of Sitana, paving the way for a comprehensive revision of the whole genus.

As is customary, the species descriptions of Sitana bahiri and S. devakai presented in this paper are based largely on morphological traits, including scale counts and throat-fan size, and I refer you to the paper for the details. The two species also differ in where they’re found, the former restricted to south-eastern Sri Lanka, the latter to the north of the island, separated by the Mahaweli River and surrounding wetter regions. Most interestingly, from my perspective, the authors suggest that S. bahiri and S. devakai differ in the coloration of their throat-fan. Sitana devakai is said to have brighter red coloration as well as a black patch on the throat-fan, whereas S. bahiri is described to have lighter orange coloration and no black patch.

Sitana bahiri and Sitana devakai, two newly described species from Sri Lanka (photos from Amarasinghe et al 2015).

Sitana bahiri and Sitana devakai, two newly described species from Sri Lanka (photos from Amarasinghe et al 2015).

I’m not sure I’m completely convinced of this difference in coloration. Though the differences are apparent in the examples shown above, another photo of S. bahiri shows some black coloration on the throat-fan (Figure 2 in the paper). I’ve also seen variation from bleached orange to deep orange, if not red, coloration within a single population of Sitana in southern India (in what Amarasinghe et al. refer to as Sitana cf. devakai):

Sitana Dewlaps

Variation in orange coloration on the throat-fan of Sitana from the southern tip of India

The need of the hour for Sitana taxonomy is not only more comprehensive geographic sampling across the whole range of this genus but also close examination of intra-population variation. Moreover, phylogenetic methods for delimiting species and discovering  relationships between species will be necessary to understand both morphological evolution  and biogeographic patterns in this group. The two species described by Amarasinghe et al. (2015), as well as their clarifications of the descriptions of S. deccanensis and S. ponticeriana, are just the start of an exciting period for Sitana systematics, so stay tuned!

Mating and Egg-Laying Behavior of Anolis smallwoodi

copulating smallwoodi

Despite the intense study of all things anoles for several decades, some aspects of their natural history are not all that well known. For example, the mating behavior of most species has not been described, and egg-laying behavior has been documented for only a few species.

In the most recent issue of IRCF Amphibians & Reptiles, Alfonso et al. take a small step to remedy this situation by describing these behaviors in the Cuban crown-giant anole, A. smallwoodi. The mating observations are from a year’s fieldwork by the senior author, whereas the observations of egg-laying are from the captive husbandry efforts of second author Veronika Holanova.

I was particularly interested in the description of how gravid females come down to the ground and poke around with their snouts until they find just the right spot, at which point they dig a hole with their snout, lay the egg, and then cover it up by pushing soil over it with their snout and forelegs.

Knight Anole Vs. Red Rat Snake: Who Will Win?

equestris being eaten by a snakex

The picture above comes from a post on Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch’s blog, about an epic battle in Sewall, Florida. Jacqui kindly put me in touch with the photographer, Nina Barcik, who provided some more information:

  • The two bricks beneath the snake are:  4½”x 6″ and   6″x 9½” to give you some reference for size.
  • One hour and 20 minutes after the picture was taken, the lizard was completely consumed and the snake was on it’s back with the head and first 6″ leaning vertically against the side of the planter.

30 minutes later the snake was gone.

By the way, who prefers the name corn snake to red rat snake?

Here’s another shot:

equestris being eaten by a snake2x

Anole Wallets and Pillowcases Now on Sale

Nearly two years ago, we reported that Dynomighty, a Kickstarter-like operation, was seeking funding to produce an anole themed wallet. And sure enough, they got enough backers (who wouldn’t want to support development of such a needed product?). So get yours today–only fifteen bills.

And once you do, open them up to buy these anole pillowcases.

What Lives in Bromeliads High in Trees in the Rainforest?

Anolis transversalis. Photo by Bejat McCracken.

Anolis transversalis. Photo by Bejat McCracken.

AA reader Shawn McCracken writes:

While conducting ground-level herpetofauna surveys at the Tiputini Biodiversity Station in Ecuador’s Yasuní Biosphere Reserve, I was lured to the canopy by the cacophony of what had to be undiscovered species coming from the bromeliad, orchid and epiphyte microhabitats. This led me to think how many possible new species may be living in this new frontier? While birding at the canopy towers I saw the Tropical Thornytail Iguana (Uracentron flaviceps) and Banded Tree Anole (Dactyloa [Anolis] transversalis) scurrying about in some of the adjacent trees, amongst other anoles I could not quite identify, there was no doubt I was headed up. Of all the available microhabitat in the canopy, the big tank bromeliads caught my attention the most – little swamps, everywhere at 20+ meters off the ground. Surely there had to be herpetofauna using these as a resource and refuge in the harsh canopy environment.

Aechmea zebrina, the bromeliad species examined by McCracken and Forster.

Aechmea zebrina, the bromeliad species examined by McCracken and Forster.

Before the next field season, I decided I needed to get up into the canopy and collect some bromeliads to have a look inside. After a self-taught crash course in tree climbing, I returned to Tiputini, but quickly realized I didn’t have a long enough rope or the skills to get to those big bromeliads. Packing plenty of rope and a greater confidence in my climbing abilities, I returned for another field season the next year. This time was a success. Along with my assistants, we collected 40 bromeliads representing three species that we sealed in 55-gallon trash bags and carried back to camp. Once we began dismantling the bromeliads, we realized we had hit a treasure trove of invertebrates and herpetofauna. Now several years later and a total of 240 bromeliads collected, we have a pretty good idea of the herpetofauna utilizing canopy tank bromeliads in northwestern part of Yasuní. In this latest publication, we summarize the herpetofauna of one high canopy tank bromeliad species, which includes the gecko Thecadactylus solimoensis and two anoles, Anolis ortonii and A. transversalis.

Some other bromeliad denizens

Some other bromeliad denizens

New Song about Night Herping

CD Stomping Grounds

We’ve heard a lot about Gunther Köhler in the last few days. What you might not know is that when he’s not busy snatching sleeping lizards off of leaves in the highlands of Mesoamerica or counting scales in his Frankfurt laboratory, he plays guitar in a flaggstaff, a country band. The band is about to release its latest CD, Stomping Grounds, and one single, Chiriqui Stream, is appropriate for our pages. You can download the MP3 and then sing along:

Chiriqui Stream

  1. When the nights grow late and the fires die down

When the fog and mist start boiling around

At camp site down by the Chiriqui stream

Where we search for creatures nobody’s seen


  1. The thrill of the night hike blows you away

As we move on, magic’s underway

We poke through the forest with its pines and oaks

With the sound of the woods, the creeks and slopes


Chorus: Living my dream at the Chiriqui stream

Finding my fortune in this unreal scheme

With a family of creatures nobody’s seen

Right down at the Chiriqui stream


  1. On the fog shrouded slopes and rugged peaks

A world of its own with its lovely creeks

Its unforeseen bugs and mystical sounds

No doubt we’re here on unknown grounds

The Lizard Bites Back: Crested Anole Bites the Head of an Attacking Snake

Photo by Benny Diaz

Photo by Benny Diaz

AA stalwart Liam Revell was forwarded the photo above on Facebook and decided to look into it. Here’s what he reports:

This impressive photo showing a Puerto Rican crested anole (Anolis cristatellus) being attacked by a Puerto Rican racer (Borikenophis portoricensis) was recently posted to the Facebook group ‘Biodiversidad de Puerto Rico’ by a photographer Benny Diaz. He has kindly allowed us to re-post his photo here and also supplied the following description of the predation event he witnessed transpiring in the Puerto Rican state forest Bosque Estatal Guajataca (translated from Spanish):

“I first saw this anole and tried to take a photo of it after noticing that it was marked with two different colored spots of paint on its back. As I slowly approached it, the animal suddenly reacted with a jump and just at that moment a Puerto Rican racer (Borikenophis portoricensis) appeared out of nowhere and captured the anole in midair!”

Although the predation event is remarkable in itself (and the photo capturing it terrific), perhaps even more notable is the fact that the lizard appears to have been marked by an investigator conducting research on anoles! After some (social media-aided) investigation of the matter, led by Puerto Rican USFW biologist and avid photographer J.P. Zegarra, this scientist revealed herself to be University of Puerto Rico Ph.D. candidate, and friend of Anole Annals, Luisa Otero. Luisa is studying anoles in Puerto Rico as part of a multi-institutional collaborative NSF project to investigate the vulnerability of tropical ectotherms to global climate change. More can be learned about this project, and Luisa’s research, from the project website.

Luisa recounts the following about this particular lizard:

Yes, we took the Tb (Editor’s note: body temperature) of the poor lizard in the picture a few weeks ago in Guajataca. Prof. Hertz was here and we were taking body temperatures and operative temperatures from models. It was the last trip of the ‘ vulnerability of tropical ectotherms’ project!! I usually use paint to mark the lizards so we don’t re-sample them the same day. This poor guy was sampled two days in a row…. (that’s why it has two colors)… and a few weeks later was eaten by this Alsophis (Ed. recently renamed Borikenophis)… very sad.”

Some years ago, Manuel Leal and Javier Rodríguez-Robles conducted a study in which they investigated what happened when a Puerto Rican racer confronted a crested anole. I summarized the study in Lizards in an Evolutionary Tree:

“In laboratory trials, Leal and Rodríguez-Robles (1995) showed that the snake, (which can attain a length of more than 1m), attacked anoles much less often  when the lizard displayed. Moreover, they demonstrated that when attacked, the lizards fought back, often biting the snake on the snout for as long as 20 minutes and managing to escape in 37% of the encounters (Leal and Rodríguez-Robles, 1995)—remarkable given the size discrepancy of the snake and the lizard.”

Diaz’s observations confirm that this behavior is not a laboratory artifact–crested anoles will chomp down and hang on for all their worth. But, just as in the majority of the lab trials, the valiant defense was for nought. After a few minutes, Diaz reports, the lizard

appeared to be immobilized (probably the result of the rear-fanged snakes venom) and the snake began to work the lizard around, little by little, until it was able to swallow it head first.

Photo by Benny Diaz.

After the lizard let go of its grip, the snake slowly moved its grip up the lizard’s body. Photo by Benny Diaz.

The time between the first photo (above) and the last one (below), in which the lizard is well on its way to digestion, was eight minutes.

Photo by Benny Diaz

Photo by Benny Diaz

It’s also worth mentioning the follow-up study Leal conducted. Again from Lizards: “

In field trials, Leal (1999) found that the extent of display behavior toward a snake model correlated with the endurance capacity of the lizard (as determined in subsequent laboratory trials); the greater the endurance capacity of the lizard, the more it displayed to an approaching snake model. Anole displays to predators may be an example of a pursuit deterrent signal (reviewed in Caro, 2005). By signaling their endurance capability, anoles may be indicating their ability to fight back, escape, and potentially even injure a snake (Leal, 1999).”

What’s the Best Camera for Photographing Lizards in the Field?

Hi Everyone, I am in the market for a new field camera. Looking for something durable, portable, and that can take great shots of anoles and their dewlaps (so good at close-ups, but not necessarily a macro lens). I currently use a Nikon D5100 SLR, but it is fairly bulky and fragile. What sorts of cameras and camera systems do you use in the field? Thanks!