Communal Nesting in Anolis angusticeps

Previous posts have discussed communal nesting behavior among a number of anole species, whereby females deposit eggs in the same cavity. A new paper by AA‘s own Michele Johnson and friends extends this growing body of observations, stretching all the way back to Stan Rand’s 1967 work. This behavior has been previously reported for the Cuban Twig Anole (Anolis angusticeps) in Cuba, though apparently not in the Bahamas. According to Robinson et al. (2014), at least nine West Indian anole species are now known to engage in communal nesting, with others potentially to be added. AA has also called attention to a tenth mainland species (A. lionotus), described in Montgomery et al. (2011). So these observations bring to mind some questions: what intrinsic factors of a nest cavity draw multiple females to oviposit there? Are female offspring returning to the site in subsequent years to lay their own eggs? Does this behavior vary individually or regionally? Let us know if you have some of your own observations.


Communal nest of Anolis angusticeps on South Bimini. Figure 2 from Robinson et al. 2014, photo by B. Kircher.


Survey: How Many Lamellae Are on This Toepad?

Hi everyone, I apologise for the repeat post. As mentioned by Martha, it may not have been obvious from the initial post that there was a survey inside!

So, please forgive me while I repost with an amended title in the hope of getting a few more poll participants. We are only just into double figures (including only 3 of you who have previously published on the subject) – surely we can do better than that! Thank you to everyone that has already contributed. I will present the results in a follow up post in week or so depending on participant activity.


One of the age old questions in anole morphology is at what point do you stop counting lamellae on the toepad?

Without giving any more information on various techniques or methods, I thought it would be interesting to ask the AA community their personal opinions. Below I have attached a flatbed scan of a toepad. Could people please fill out the corresponding poll below, and I will present the results in a follow up post!

alt text

Lamellae numbered 1-51 on the 4th digit of an Anolis lizard hindfoot

Six New Mexican Anoles Described


Gunther Kōhler and colleagues have just published in Zootaxa a new revision of some Mexican anoles, including the description of six new species and the sinking of one species. Rather than describing the work, I think it would be more effective to present the title and abstract:

A revision of the Mexican Anolis (Reptilia, Squamata, Dactyloidae) from the Pacific versant west of the Isthmus de Tehuantepec in the states of Oaxaca, Guerrero, and Puebla, with the description of six new species


We revise the species of anoles occurring along the Pacific versant of Mexico west of the Isthmus de Tehuantepec in the states of Oaxaca, Guerrero, and Puebla. Based on our analyses of morphological and molecular genetic data, we recognize 21 species, six of which we describe as new (i.e., Anolis carlliebi sp. nov., A. immaculogularis sp. nov., A. nietoi sp. nov., A. sacamecatensis sp. nov., A. stevepoei sp. nov., and A. zapotecorum sp. nov.). Furthermore, we synonymize Anolis forbesi Smith & Van Gelder 1955 with Anolis microlepidotus Davis 1954. Of the recognized species, six have smooth ventral scales (i.e., Anolis dunni, A. gadovii, A. liogaster, A. omiltemanus, A. peucephilus, and A. taylori) and 14 have keeled ventral scales (i.e., A. boulengerianus, A. carlliebi, A. immaculogularis, A. megapholidotus, A. microlepidotus, A. nebuloides, A. nebulosus, A. nietoi, A. quercorum, A. sacamecatensis, A. stevepoei, A. subocularis, A. unilobatus, and A. zapotecorum). In one species, A. macrinii, the ventral scales vary from smooth to weakly keeled. For each species we provide color descriptions in life, color photographs in life, descriptions and illustration of hemipenis morphology (if available), descrip-tion of external morphology, distribution maps based on the specimens examined, comments on the conservation status, and natural history notes. Finally, we provide a dichotomous key for the identification of the 21 species of anoles occurring along the Pacific versant of Mexico west of the Isthmus de Tehuantepec in the states of Oaxaca, Guerrero, and Puebla.

Florida Festival Features Green Anole

Karen Cusick, author of  Lizards on the Fence and tender of Daffodil’s Photo Blog, writes:

You may remember that the Wild Amelia Nature Festival (Amelia Island, FL–just north of where I live) chose the green anole as their Critter of the Year for 2015. I was looking at the Wild Amelia website and they are already starting to gear up for the festival, which will be held May 15-17. They’ve designed a new website logo featuring a green anole, and there are going to be tee shirts with the logo. The website button to buy a tee shirt doesn’t work yet, but that should be fixed as the festival gets closer. I’m going to check on that.

There’s only a small size image of the logo so far, but I’m attaching it anyway. It looks like it’ll be a nice shirt.

They’ve scheduled a series of nature-based seminars in the months leading up to the festival, and the last one is May 12, when the director of the Jacksonville Zoo, Tony Vecchio, will give a presentation about the green anole and the Zoo.

I’ll let you know if I hear any more anole-related news about the festival!

Third Specimen of Anolis dissimilis Found in Brazil

dissimilisIn a recent paper in Herpetology Notes, de Freitas et al. report the third specimen of the species, the first from Brazil and the first in which a living specimen is illustrated.

Look at that schnoz! Reminiscent of some members of the carolinensis species group, such as AA regular A. maynardi from the Cayman Islands.

Here’s the illustration from Ernest Williams’ 1965 description in Breviora.

dissimilis williams

How Many Lamellae Are on this Toepad?

One of the age old questions in anole morphology is at what point do you stop counting lamellae on the toepad?

Without giving any more information on various techniques or methods, I thought it would be interesting to ask the AA community their personal opinions. Below I have attached a flatbed scan of a toepad. Could people please fill out the corresponding poll below, and I will present the results in a follow up post!

alt text

Lamellae numbered 1-51 on the 4th digit of an Anolis lizard hindfoot

Finding the “Rare” Anolis duellmani

Like many quests to find rare herps, this is a story of courage, persistence, and strength. Just kidding; it was a piece of cake.

Anolis duellmani was described by Fitch and Henderson (1973) based on four specimens from the southern slope of the Volcán San Martín Tuxtla, Veracruz, Mexico. Even though the phylogenetic position of A. duellmani is uncertain, no additional morphological variation had been described for the species. As part of a major effort led by Dr. Adrián Nieto-Montes de Oca and Dr. Steven Poe to untangle the systematics of Mesoamerican anoles, Israel Solano-Zavaleta, Levi N. Gray, and I went to Los Tuxtlas to search for the elusive species.

Continue reading

Registro de Copula de Anolis huilae

Copula de Anolis huilae en Ibagué (Colombia).

Copula de Anolis huilae.

En el marco de mi tesis de maestría sobre la Ecofisiología térmica de Anolis huilae tuve la oportunidad de observar, creería que sería el primer registro, una pareja de ésta especie copulando en el tronco de un árbol. Evento que lo considero relevante por la falta de información acerca de ésta especie.

El estudio lo estoy desarrollando en el Corregimiento de Juntas, Ibagué (Colombia). Mi objetivo es conocer aspectos de la fisiología térmica de A. huilae y relacionarla con las temperaturas ambientales y microambietales de su hábitat.  Para la colecta de datos me estoy apoyando con una cámara termográfica infrarroja (metodología no invasiva) y modelos de cobre con data loggers insertos en ellos.

Imagen termográfica de copula de Anolis huilae.

Imagen termográfica de copula de Anolis huilae.

En una primera etapa del estudio estoy averiguando si A. huilae es una especie heliotérmica o tigmotérmica; como también, si es termoconformadora activa o termoconformadora pasiva. Datos que próximamente los compartiré.

Observaciones comportamentales, no registradas,  ayudarán a conocer más aspectos de la biología y ecología de ésta especie, de la que aún falta mucho por descubrir. Así mismo, he observado en esta localidad la simpatría con otro anolis, Anolis antonii.


English translation via the internet:

Record of Copulation of Anolis Huilae

In the framework of my master’s thesis on the thermal ecophysiology of Anolis huilae, I had the opportunity to observe, you would not believe that would be the first record, a couple of this species copulating in the trunk of a tree. Event that is considered relevant by the lack of information about this species.

The study, I am developing in the Corregimiento of seals, Ibagué (Colombia). My goal is to understand aspects of the thermal physiology of A. huilae and relate it to the ambient temperatures and microenvironments of its habitat. For the collection of data I am supporting with a infrared thermal imager (non-invasive methods) and copper models with data loggers inserts in them.

In the first stage of the study, I am enquiring whether A. huilae thermoregulation is a species or is thigmothermic; also, whether it is an active or passive thermoregulator. I will share the data soon.

Behavioral observations, unregistered, help you learn more aspects of the biology and ecology of this species, which still lack much to discover. Also, I’ve seen in this locality the sympatry with another anole, Anolis antonii.

Anolis carolinensis BAC Library Available

Jessica Alfoldi of the Broad Institute writes:

“Matthew Breen from NCSU has a copy of the Anolis BAC library used in the sequencing and anchoring of the reference Anolis genome:CHORI-318: Green Anole Lizard . He unfortunately no longer has room for it, and will have to throw it out very soon unless someone else can give it a new home. If you would like to have a copy of this BAC library, please email me back as soon as possible.

Thank you,


Time to Plan the Next Anole Symposium: Input Needed


Lourdes Rodriguez Schettino speaking at the 2009 Anolis symposium

Symposia on anole biology have been held three times in the last 25 years. First, in 1989 as part of the ASIH meetings in San Francisco, then in 1999 in conjunction with the herpetology meetings at Penn State, and most recently as a stand-alone meeting at the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard in 2009. These meetings have been a great success–the MCZ meeting was attended by more than 125 people (take a photographic trip down Memory Lane).

The time has come to think about the next Anolis Symposium. The meeting organizers have settled on 2016 in Miami. We’re considering a number of great venues there, so it should be a fun, anole-filled event, easily accessible for anole researchers from all over.

The question is: when should the symposium be held? In January, right after the holidays? February, in the heart of winter? August, right after the Ecological Society of America meeting in Fort Lauderdale? October, like the last meeting?

We’re going to try to pick the date that works best for most potential attendees, so please comment below and let us know which dates are good or bad, and why.

Can Lizards Adapt to a Warming World? An Experimental Study Demonstrates Natural Selection for Performance at Warmer Temperatures

Anolis sagrei in the Bahamas. Photo by Christian Cox from the Washington Post

In these times of rapidly changing climates, a major question is whether species will be able to survive. Essentially, they have two options: either shift their geographic ranges to stay within their ancestral niches, or adapt to new circumstances. Or, of course, go extinct. In recent years, evolutionary biologists have come to realize that evolutionary change can occur very rapidly when selective pressures are strong. The question is whether it can occur rapidly enough to accommodate quickly changing environments.

A recent study suggested that many tropical lizards are imperiled by a warming world. This study suggested that lizard populations would not be able to adapt rapidly to warmer conditions, but the analysis wasn’t very detailed.

First author Mike Logan hard at work at the field site. Photo reprinted from the Washington Post

In a study that is the first of its kind, Mike Logan and colleagues at Dartmouth have investigated the selective forces that may impinge on lizards as the world warms. The study was conducted on the old workhouse, the brown anole, Anolis sagrei. In essence, what the researchers did was calculate the extent to which sprinting capability was affected by temperature in two populations, one in an area in the Bahamas currently occupied by the anoles, and another in a population transplanted to a warmer era that served as a surrogate for conditions that will be experienced under global warming.

The study was gargantuan in its scope. Each lizard was put through its paces a number of times at each of a number of temperatures. From these data, the researchers could establish the temperature at which each lizard ran fastest and the breadth of temperatures at which they ran reasonably fast (compared to their maximum), which is termed performance breadth. They then marked the animals and returned them to their habitats. They then returned three months later to recapture the lizards to see which had survived and which hadn’t, allowing them to see whether their sprint capability measures were acted upon by natural selection.

It turns out that a fair amount of variation exists in the lizards in terms of both optimal temperature and performance breadth. In the natural habitat in Georgetown, Great Exuma, Bahamas, there was no evidence of selection operating on any of their measures.

The transplant experiment was conducted a year later on the Bahamian island of Eleuthera, which is not all that far from Great Exuma. In this case, the thermal characteristics of the habitat from which lizards were taken were very similar to the study site on Abaco. However, the more open, exposed area into which the lizards were transplanted was several degrees warmer, and also more variable in temperature.

Lizards in the transplanted population experienced body temperatures 1.5 C higher than those in the reference population. When the researchers recaptured the lizards on Eleuthera, they found strong evidence for natural selection, and in the direction expected: lizards that performed better at higher temperatures survived better than those with lower performance optima, and those with a broader thermal range survived better than those more narrowly adapted. In other words, there was strong selection for adaptation to warmer conditions.

The big question is whether populations can adapt to such strong selection pressures. The authors didn’t measure the heritability of the traits—that is, the extent to which adults with higher temperature optima produce offspring with similarly high optima, and such heritability is crucial to predicting evolutionary response. Nonetheless, if these traits have levels of heritability equivalent to that of other thermal performance traits in other species, the authors argue, then the brown anole may well be able to adapt evolutionarily to the warming predicted to occur in the next century.

This paper received a lot of attention in the press and blogosphere. For example, nice articles appeared in the Washington Post and on Scientific American‘s website.

More Morphological Oddities in Anolis sagrei

A few months ago, I shared with you some of the odder morphological variations my field assistants and I encountered while measuring Anolis sagrei in Gainesville, FL. We went on to measure quite a few more lizards, and saw quite a few more oddities, as well as some fairly gruesome injuries. Here are some of my favourite examples:

1. A far better picture of a doubly-regenerated tail.

double regeneration

2. A jaw injury that resulted in the left and right sides of the jaws being dissociated from each other.

jaw injury

3. A cut hyoid. I imagine this lizard was no longer able to extend his dewlap.


4. A nasty head injury. We saw this lizard three or four more times after we measured him, and his wound seemed to have healed up completely.

head injury

5. A brutal leg injury.


6. A male with not only an impressive tail crest but also some nice red tail coloration.

tail crest


The Dewlap of Cophosaurus texanus


Here at Anole Annals, we can appreciate a good dewlap. In particular, a pair of agamid clades, namely the genera Draco and Sitana + Otocryptis, arguably do extensible throat fans even better than Anolis. But dewlaps are actually found in many other iguanian lizards, covered by AA posts here and here.

Today I thought I’d share a lesser-known dewlap, that of Cophosaurus texanus, known as the greater (greatest?) earless lizard, and a legitimate candidate for best lizard coloration if you ask me. In my experience, these lizards don’t often dewlap, but will occasionally hit you with a few push-ups, and reliably wag their striped tails at you before darting away — though they are upstaged in this latter respect by Callisaurus draconoides. On a recent walk in the Rincon mountains near Tucson, Arizona, I encountered a particularly saucy individual, and thought I would share.

Here’s a series of photos showing a pushup/dewlap combo being delivered. By the way, Cophosaurus texanus are known to display at potential predators (see Dial 1986, American Naturalist 127:1).


Another shot, the dewlap is being retracted here:


As far as dewlaps go, its not the most impressive, but there certainly looks to be some cartilaginous rod action involved, as in Anolis. But wait – notice anything unusual in the above photos? Yes, there looks to be a parasite peeking out through the lizard’s nostril. Here’s a closer look:


Pretty gnarly. I’m not sure what the parasite is, it looks to me like it could be a maggot (hey, speaking of maggots, remember anole throat maggots?). Hope I didn’t just ruin anyone’s lunch!

Anyway, if you’re interested in learning more about Cophosaurus, here is an excellent write-up written by Robert Bezy and provided by the Tucson Herp Society.

Globalization and the 50-Year-Old Predicted Reorganization of Anole Biogeography

helmus_etal_fig2I caught an anole lizard and tossed it ten feet or so out into the water. To my dismay, it popped to the surface, swam expertly back to the shelter of the trees, and climbed up a mangrove trunk. Well, I continued, suppose a full hurricane blew an anole so far away on open water it couldn’t get back. Our little experiment shows that it could swim to the nearest islet if it were not too far away.

So wrote E.O. Wilson (1995 p. 271, Warner Books, NY) in his autobiography, Naturalist, reflecting on his island defaunation work with Daniel Simberloff. From his ‘little experiment’ (I can hear animal care committees cringing), Wilson postulated that anoles could, if they had to, disperse from island to island across open water. Whether anoles can cross water, however, isn’t that important. Rather, what’s important is that they rarely do. Anoles’ status as a symbol of island biogeography and adaptive radiation is largely due to the fact that isolation and the resulting low gene flow among islands set the stage for in situ speciation and adaptive radiation. In fact, much of what we (and island biogeography in general) owe to anoles, we owe because they don’t swim so well. And they don’t colonize new islands very often.

Or rather, they didn’t.

A new paper in Nature by Matt Helmus, with AA stalwarts Luke Mahler and Jonathan Losos, shows how human-mediated dispersal of anoles among Caribbean islands is reorganizing anole biogeography in a very predictable way. I suspect many who have worked on anole island biogeography, me included, have considered what to do about recent introductions and have often, like me, dropped them out of a dateset with the goal of trying to discern the ‘natural’ pattern. Helmus et al., however, saw the spate of recent anole introductions across the Caribbean as an opportunity, rather than a nuisance. Their great leap came from realizing that this reorganization of anole Caribbean biogeography should be predictable from the basic tenets of island biogeography theory.

Based on MacArthur and Wilson’s equilibrium theory, adaptive radiation theory and drawing on Losos and colleagues’ past work from 1993 and 2000, Helmus et al. predicted three patterns: 1) Species-impoverished islands (for their size) should have more exotics than more saturated islands, 2) The phylogenetic diversity of islands should increase due to exotic establishment, and 3) Human-mediated introductions should degrade richness–(geographic) isolation relationships. In short, they found evidence consistent with all of these patterns. Furthermore, they showed that economics that has replaced distance as the key determinant of island isolation. Needless to say, these are very exciting results that have supplied a key test, at biogeographic scales, of some classic theory*. It’s a must read.

This paper is also important because it shows how ‘blue skies’, curiosity-driven science can help us understand and, most importantly, predict how human activity will impact ecological systems. Did MacArthur and Wilson know, more than half a century ago, that their work would predict how increasing globalization and trade embargoes would affect modern biodiversity? I doubt it (cue someone pointing out in the Comments the exact line in the ETIB where they do predict this). However, regardless of whether they knew it at the time, this is exactly what their theory has done. As Helmus et al. state (p. 545): “Our results support the theory that it is the influence of geographic area and isolation on … speciation and colonization that fundamentally determine island biodiversity”. However, as they crucially find, what we now need to do is rethink how we define ‘isolation’. We can’t leave ourselves out of the equation any more. It’s economics, not geography, that matters now. Thus, not only does Helmus et al.’s paper test a long-standing theory, but it provides a clear example of the importance of fundamental scientific theory for understanding and predicting ecological dynamics in the ‘Anthropocene’.

In conclusion, the observation that humans are moving anoles — and other taxa — around faster than they could make their own way will come as a surprise to no one. But finding that the subsequent reorganization of life can be predicted by island biogeographic theory is fantastic (it should be pretty clear by this point that I like this paper. A lot). So if you haven’t read the paper, you should. I know it’s a terrible cliché to call a study ‘elegant’. So I won’t. I’ll call it damn elegant.

*I can’t help but mention that Helmus et al.’s findings were mostly based on good old-fashion OLS regression and ANOVA, and visualized using simple scatterplots – No fancy-shmancy statistical machismo here (phylogenetics aside). Just a clear set of predictions that could be parsimoniously tested. Chapeau.

Editor’s note #1: nice summaries of this paper have been written by Ed Yong’s Phenomena: Not Exactly Rocket Science blog and by Emily Singer in the new online Science magazine Quanta.

Editor’s note #2: The paper grabbed the cover of Nature.

Helmus et al. cover

This, in turn, joins a long list of recent science journal covers sporting an anole:


Male Brown Anoles Disperse Farther than Females

sagrei dispersalUnderstanding dispersal—the extent to which organisms move from their place of birth—is of obvious importance in understanding many aspects of the natural history of a species, such as how related individuals are in a population or how genetically distinct one population is from another. Despite the intensive study on Anolis, however, very little is known about their dispersal. This is particularly surprising for species like the green and brown anoles, which are so common in so many places. Now, in a very nice experimental study in Behavioral Ecology, Calsbeek and colleagues have shed light on dispersal in the brown anole in the Bahamas.

Basically, the study went like this: the authors collected a bunch of gravid females from a variety of sites on a single, small island in the Bahamas. They got the lizards to lay eggs in the lab and hatched them out, then released them within three weeks of hatching back on their mom’s island. Each lizard was individually marked. The researchers then returned the following spring to find which animals had survived and how far they had moved. Then, they returned again in the fall to see how these survivors fared over the following summer and whether subsequent survival in this second period varied as a function of the distance they had dispersed in the first period.

There are a lot of interesting specific details and I encourage you to read the paper, but the broader story is this:

1. Males dispersed substantially further than females

2. Surviving males grew faster than surviving females

3. Survival of the lizards was low

4. Among females that survived the first period, those that had dispersed shorter distances survived better in the second period

Surprisingly little is known about the extent of anole dispersal, and so this paper is an important advance. As far as I’m aware, dispersal of only two other anoles have been studied. Here’s a summary from Lizards in an Evolutionary Tree:

“Little is known about the dispersal of anoles. One study of A. limifrons found that most lizards dispersed very little and that the home ranges of many individuals moved little from the juvenile to adult age. The maximum dispersal distance, measured as distance from the center of the juvenile home range to the center of the adult home range, based on 148 individuals, was 45 meters. Both the mean and extremes were greater for males than for females (Andrews and Rand, 1983). Anolis limifrons is a small and short-lived mainland species; it is always possible that larger, longer-lived species may disperse further.

The only other data come from Anolis aeneus, which moves as much as 150 meters or more after hatching to occupy open clearings (Stamps, 1983b, 1990). Ultimately, the lizards move back into shadier areas when they reach subadult size, although it is not known whether they return to the vicinity of their hatching site.

A number of arboreal species are known to disperse across open ground between trees (Trivers, 1976; Hicks and Trivers, 1983; Losos and Spiller, 2005).

A Taxonomic Epiphany Regarding Anolis utowanae (Not Really)

I awoke to a placid summer day in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on 3 August of 2013. My hosts at the aptly named Friendly Inn had prepared a sumptuous breakfast, which I had again slept through before embarking on my then-daily walk to the Museum of Comparative Zoology. As I strolled on, my concerns vacillated between the upcoming Catalina Wine Mixer and the validity of the lizard name Anolis utowanae, an enigmatic name associated with a single specimen ostensibly from Mazatlan, Mexico. Perhaps distracted by the excitement of the coming social season portended by the Mixer, I wandered a bit longer than usual and entered a quaint shop of letters on Massachusetts Avenue. The shop had on display a historical map featuring the population growth of the Pacific shipping ports shortly after the completion of the Panama Canal in 1914. As I gazed on that map, I experienced an epiphany regarding A. utowanae. What if Thomas Barbour, the describer of this problematic species, had in fact collected the specimen earlier, on the other side of the canal in the West Indies? My jubilance at this realization was such that I could not help but engage the curious shopkeep.

“Sir, with this display, do you realize what you’ve done?” I asked, gesturing towards the map.

The shopkeep stared at me, wide-eyed in bated anticipation.

“You have helped solve one of the great mysteries of Mexican anole taxonomy, ” I told him.

His pride was palpable as I exited the shop and proceeded hurriedly to the Museum to test my hypothesis.

The above narrative is largely but not completely true. It is a fact that I was in Cambridge in August 2013, I did walk to the MCZ every day, and I often thought about the Catalina Wine Mixer during my morning walk. But the important part—the part that might make this story a passable introduction to a scientific paper 80 years ago—is patently false. There was no epiphany about A. utowanae. Rather, my suspicion of the status of this name had been growing ever since I’d gotten serious about Mexican anoles. The time at MCZ just gave me the material to write a paper establishing this species as a junior synonym (Poe 2014; available now for free on the Breviora website!).

Figure 1. Thomas Barbour. He would hide his disgust if he weren't so disappointed in you. (Photo: Marine Biological Laboratory, Woods Hole, Massachusetts)

Figure 1. Thomas Barbour. He would hide his disgust if he weren’t so disappointed in you. (Photo: Marine Biological Laboratory, Woods Hole, Massachusetts)

Some readers of Anole Annals are likely aware of the story of Anolis utowanae. The species was described in 1932 with type locality near Mazatlan, Mexico. In the ensuing years, no additional specimens were procured despite the accessibility of the type locality and a lot of interest in Sinaloan herps. Thomas Barbour (Figure 1), of MCZ and anole fame and one of the kings of the Rich White Guy on a Yacht period of herpetological exploration, began the Anolis utowanae species description with a detailed story of the collection of the type specimen. Here it is:

On a day last spring, April 10, 1931, while driving with Mrs. Barbour and my daughter, Mary, to a finca some miles north of Mazatlan, we stopped in a dusty lane to let a herd of calves pass by. The herd was followed by a barefooted Indian who trudged wearily behind them through the deep dust. He carried in his hand a long lashed whip and from time to time he snapped it viciously and in so doing killed the lizards on rocks or fence posts by his way with most extraordinary skill. We watched him some time quite fascinated. I asked him what on earth he was pocketing these lizards for. He looked at me with surprise and then added, “I am taking them home to feed my cats.” I bought what he had for a few cents. It was obvious that he felt quite certain that he had been dealing with a person of unsound mind as he walked on looking at the coins, for it surely had never occurred to him that such small game had a cash value. Among these lizards one, I feel quite certain, is unknown.

                    —-Barbour (1932), description of Anolis utowanae

Thomas Barbour’s story of the discovery of A. utowanae shares some qualities with my epiphany story. His treatment is at least partially untrue and, more particularly, I am convinced that the important part of Barbour’s story—that he obtained a new species of lizard on an April day in 1931 in Mazatlan—is false. But I am getting ahead of myself.

I was at MCZ in August of 2013 to collect additional data on some projects in my lab that require information on every species of Anolis. Thus, I was addressing important questions like “how many toe lamellae does Anolis granuliceps have?” (answer: about 15) and “how many scales are across the snout at the second canthals in the parvauritus version of Anolis biporcatus? (answer: 11.5). In the context of this work, we must make a decision on every species of Anolis: Valid or Not? These decisions go beyond simple literature searches; we really are trying to predict what species are likely to end up valid in the foreseeable future. For example, we are not going to include Anolis ibague Williams 1975 in our key to Anolis, because we have visited the type locality of ibague (Ibague, Tolima, Colombia) and found several individuals of the supersimilar and earlier-described species Anolis sulcifrons, some displaying the purportedly unusual headscales of the type specimen (a juvenile female) of A. ibague (sorry, Ernest). We could include A. ibague in our analyses—virtually any list of Anolis species would include this name—but if there are no traits to distinguish ibague and sulcifrons, and we are fairly certain ibague is a junior synonym of sulcifrons…would such an approach really be scientifically responsible?

I mention the example of Anolis ibague because A. utowanae was a similar case, but with a more concrete answer. When I was at MCZ in 2013, we were finishing an electronic key to all Mexican Anolis and we needed to know whether the name utowanae is valid. Some recent work (Kohler, 2012; Nieto et al. 2013) had cleared up several other Mexican anole names, but A. utowanae remained an enigma. With the MCZ type specimen (MCZ 31035) in front of me, I gave myself two nights to figure this out.

The key ingredients to elucidating the status of Anolis utowanae were 1) the wonderful MCZ anole collection (Figure 2); 2) the nearly equally wonderful MCZ herpetology library, including texts by Barbour; 3) the excellent paper by Henderson and Powell (2004); 4) my electronic (Lucid) key to Anolis; 5) my lab’s inability to find A. utowanae during a stop near Mazatlan in 2011 (not the safest place to be walking around at night looking for anoles); and 6) later, the diary of Thomas Barbour’s daughter Mary (Leaves from my Diary, 1932). Oh, and the kindness and hospitality of Joe Martinez, Tsuyoshi Takahashi and Jonathan Woodward (Messrs. Losos and Rosado usually are equally tolerant hosts, but they were absent during this particular visit).


Figure 2. As most Anole Annals readers know, MCZ has a fantastic anole collection. Here are some of the specimens I examined during my visit.

Put these elements together and you get my paper published this month in Breviora. I will spare you the time of reading the paper and summarize: Thomas Barbour apparently collected the Anolis utowanae specimen during his stop on Grand Cayman during the earlier part of a family voyage from Miami to Baja Mexico via the Panama Canal on a yacht called the Utowana. That is, Anolis utowanae = A. conspersus (Figure 3), and the skepticism of workers like Stuart, McDiarmid, and Lieb regarding the status of this name is validated. The lizard-whipping incident described in the paper probably actually occurred, but evidently involved a different lizard than the A. utowanae specimen. At some point Barbour mistakenly attributed a Grand Cayman anole to Mexico. Specifically, he associated an Anolis conspersus with the event where he and daughter Mary met a local cattle farmer in Mazatlan. How did this switch happen? Continue reading

And So the Carnage Is Resumed …

A brown anole (Anolis sagrei) male from Santzepu, Chiayi County, southwestern Taiwan.

A brown anole (Anolis sagrei) male from Santzepu, Chiayi County, southwestern Taiwan.

The Taiwanese authorities will once again launch a campaign to try to eradicate the brown anole in southwestern Taiwan. By paying a bounty of N.T.D 3 per collected lizard, they hope to encourage residents to help remove these lizards. They have funds for about 100 000 lizards, but I am afraid that is most likely not enough! The known distribution of this species in southwestern Taiwan is ca. 237 hectares. In my opinion the distribution most likely exceeds that. Those in the know are aware that these lizards can attain great densities. In one study, we found that they can attain densities of about 2900 lizards / ha. So, even if the average density is just 1/10 of that they do not have enough funds.
In addition to that, some religious groups are against the killing of animals and I have found that they do not permit the capture of these lizards on their properties. Even in areas where the capturing of the lizards is permitted, it is difficult to collect all the individuals present. Anolis sagrei that have escaped after being captured tend to flee from a perceived threat at greater distances, which means that such individuals could persist in an area without the collectors being aware of them. These lizards are also opportunistic and can utilize a variety of natural and man-made structures as shelters, many of which would hinder the capture of lizards. In addition to that, some agricultural practices such as the use of greenhouses can act as reservoirs for these lizards. It is thus not surprising that in spite of the large numbers of lizards removed to date, A. sagrei still exists in the southwestern and eastern study site and seems to be expanding its distribution range in Taiwan.

An Anolis sagrei male sheltering in an electrical control unit in an agricultural area in the southwestern Santzepu, Chiayi County, southwestern Taiwan (note the sympatric Hemidactylus frenatus on one of the electrical wires).

An Anolis sagrei male sheltering in an electrical control unit in an agricultural area in the southwestern Santzepu, Chiayi County, southwestern Taiwan (note the sympatric Hemidactylus frenatus on one of the electrical wires).

An Anolis sagrei sheltering in a drainage pipe (right) of a concrete roadside embankment in Santzepu, Chiayi County, southwestern Taiwan.

An Anolis sagrei sheltering in a drainage pipe (right) of a concrete roadside embankment in Santzepu, Chiayi County, southwestern Taiwan.

So my money is on the lizards! Because the distribution of A. sagrei in Taiwan is fairly extensive and the species disperses very easily, the eradication of A. sagrei in Taiwan is impractical. Efforts should rather focus on managing this species.

My opinion is that one of the best ways to do so is by manipulating habitats and making them unsuitable for A. sagrei to inhabit, and so hinder the spread of this species in Taiwan and limit its population growth. The cultivation of crops such as rice (Oryza sativa) and taro (Colocasia esculenta), which are unsuitable habitats for these lizards, should be encouraged in agricultural areas where these lizards are known to occur. Also, since broadleaf forests in Taiwan are likely unsuitable habitats for A. sagrei, greater efforts should be made to re-establish and conserve large areas of broadleaf forests in disturbed lowland areas of Taiwan. This would not only contribute to the conservation of native forest species, but such areas will also function as reservoirs for species like Japalura swinhonis that can compete with A. sagrei, as well as being barriers for its spread.

Dwarf Boa Versus Giant Twig Anole

Figure 1. Sequence of the unsuccessful predation by Tropidophis melanurus on Anolis porcus. See Torres et al. 2014 for the full description. Photos by Carlos Pérez-Penichet.

Snake predation on anoles has been widely documented on this blog (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6). Torres and colleagues, writing in Herpetology Notes, add to this collection with stunning pictures of a dusky dwarf boa, Tropidophis melanurus, constricting an Anolis porcus, a member of the Chamaeleolis clade.  While the individuals were found entwined on the ground, they likely fell out of nearby tree since A. porcus is a highly arboreal species. The anole was ultimately spared an unpleasant fate, but it was unclear whether the lizard was too big for the snake to consume or if the snake was disturbed by the observers.

Torres, J., C. Pérez-Penichet, and O. Torres. 2014. Predation attempt by Tropidophis melanurus (Serpentes, Tropidophiidae) on Anolis porcus (Sauria, Dactyloidae). Herpetology Notes 7: 527-529.