Take That Geico: Anole Eats a Gecko

Scott Trageser posted this photo on Herpnation of Anolis leachii eating a gecko in Codrington, Barbuda. Here’s a few more details he sent while travelling in Madagascar: “The story was, I was photographing the gecko for a distribution note and the A. leachii came down and grabbed before I could even pull the shot off! The leachi would stay high in the trees so despite being large, we seldom saw them.”

Note: it is proper to spell leachii with two “ii”‘s

Vulnerability to Climate warming of Four Genera of New World Iguanians

Liolaemus lemniscatus. Photo from Thomas Kramer’s flickr account.

Based on thermal constraints, as deduced from the effects of global warming on key aspects of thermal biology (e.g. field and laboratory temperatures, and thermoregulation indices; after Hertz et al., 1993), Dr. Piantoni and Dr. Navas from the University of São Paulo, Brazil, and Dr. Ibargüengoytía from the University of Comahue, Argentina, assessed the vulnerability of a sample of populations from the genera Anolis, Liolaemus, Sceloporus, and Tropidurus  from a broad range of ecological settings such as the deserts of Yucatan, the Brazilian Cerrado, the lowlands of southern Patagonia steppe, the rainforests of Puerto Rico and the Nothofagus forests in Tierra del Fuego. The combined data on the four iguanian lineages, reported in a just-published paper in Animal Conservation, corroborate the hypotheses of increased susceptibility to warming in species from lower latitude and lowlands, and contributes to debate climate-related risk of extinction in lizards.

Thermoregulatory behavior increases with latitude and altitude and tropical and lowland environments are mainly occupied by thermoconforming lizards. In most of the cold and temperate environments (e.g. inhabited by Liolaemus and Anolis), warming could be neutral or beneficial and vulnerability to climate warming is not only linked to the efficiency of thermoregulation, but also to the high geographic and seasonal variation in the thermal biology of these species. Near the equator, susceptibility to climate change is associated with the tendency to physiological specialization as a result of the thermal stability of the forested environment and of the high proportions of operative temperatures exceeding the critical thermal maximum of most lizards of the open environments. The substrate temperatures at these localities will further increase with warming and eventually achieve overheating values. Whereas thermal shelters may assist lizards in the short-term, the compromise between sheltering and activity time may affect fitness in the long-term.

Overheating become a concrete risk in these environments, both as a direct driver of death or as a limiting factor for activity. Although a recent study on A. sagrei confirmed that some tropical populations might be capable of adapting to warmer and thermally variable environments (Logan et al., 2014), adaptive trends are unlikely to outrun global warming. Besides, habitat fragmentation and transformation may constrain the possibilities to disperse to cooler environments accelerating the extinctions, particularly in montane populations that would also face the upward progress of lowland species.

Adult specimen of Tropidurus torquatus from Tocantins, Brazil

Adult specimen of Tropidurus torquatus from Tocantins, Brazil

Finally, it should be noted that the studied populations are potentially challenged by additional disturbances. Tropical populations, especially the ones inhabiting open and low elevation sites, are also vulnerable to the increasing fragmentation of the landscapes. For example, in Puerto Rico, species like A. cooki, which used to inhabit the dry forests, have been slowly displaced to areas in sympatry with A. cristatellus (Genet, 2002). The Brazilian savanna is gradually being replaced by soy fields and cattle ranches which may raise the soil temperature well above the predicted values and confine populations, such as Tropidurus torquatus‘ in Tocantins, to gallery forests. Paradoxically, the species with the highest vulnerability seem to inhabit the least protected areas, which emphasizes the urgent need of mitigation measures as the increase in conservation units to protect their underestimated biodiversity.



Get a Grip on It! Cling Force and Perch Diameter

An actual perch used by Anolis cristatellus - neither smooth nor flat! (photo by K. Winchell)

An actual perch used by Anolis cristatellus – neither smooth nor flat! (photo by K. Winchell)

In the real world, lizards cling to everything from smooth, flat concrete walls to rough,  rounded tree trunks. So why is it that most studies on cling force in anoles focus on clinging to smooth flat substrates? Does cling force differ if the substrate is rounded or rough? Jason Kolbe sought to answer this question in his recent publication, “Effects of Hind-Limb Length and Perch Diameter on Clinging Performance in Anolis Lizards from the British Virgin Islands” (Kolbe 2015).

We know that morphology impacts performance in anoles and that performance varies with environment. For example, sprint speed is correlated with limb length, but this relationship depends on the diameter of the substrate (e.g. Losos and Sinervo, 1989). We also know a little about clinging performance in anoles. Greater cling force is correlated with larger toepads and more lamellae on smooth flat surfaces (Irschick et al., 1996; Zani 2000; Elstrott and Irschick, 2004), but adhesion on rougher surfaces may be influenced by claw and toe morphology (Zani 2000).

There appears to be an unexplored interaction between substrate properties and clinging ability that involves more than just toepad characteristics. Specifically, Kolbe points out that claws can increase clinging ability by digging into the perch or simply by increasing friction on the surface. Limbs can also increase friction via the application of compression forces to the substrate. In other words, cling force can be increased, particularly on rough surfaces, by using muscular force to grasp rather than relying on van der Waals forces from the toepads, which are more effective on smooth flat surfaces.

Anole species used in this study: Anolis cristatellus (left) and Anolis stratulus (right). Photos by K. Winchell.

Kolbe investigated this further by looking at the interaction between limb length and clinging ability on perches of different diameters with Anolis cristatellus and Anolis stratulus from the British Virgin Islands. Specifically, he hypothesized that cling force should increase as the ability of a lizard to obtain a firm grasp on a substrate improves (i.e. when it can wrap its limbs around the substrate). This ability to form a secure grasp is dependent on both the diameter of the perch and on lizard limb length. Continue reading Get a Grip on It! Cling Force and Perch Diameter

Urban Hibernacula


Urban environments often create a diversity of novel habitats that differ from natural areas in thermal variance and spatial organization. Sometimes this results in a broader range of usable microhabitats for species able to thrive in human-disturbed areas. A few days ago I discovered such a microhabitat in an unlikely place. Last October, after getting mucked up seining for turtles in a slow moving Alabama stream, I quickly rinsed my muddy boots with a water hose and tossed them absentmindedly into a sunny spot to dry. There they remained until I went out a few days ago (January 30) with my daughter to look for green anoles coming out to enjoy a brief break in winter weather. Temperatures for the day were expected to reach the upper 60’s° F. Even in midwinter, green anoles (Anolis carolinensis) will sometimes emerge from their hibernacula to sun if the weather is right. As we walked outside, I noticed such an individual emerging from one of my steel-toe boots; he was covered in a dry layer of mud that most likely still lined the insole from my turtle trip last fall. He was quite sluggish so my daughter (3 ½) was able to inspect him for a moment before he got spooked and scurried off to a sunny brick wall some distance away. This was the only anole we found for several hours, so we called it quits and went looking for salamanders. Later that evening, once the sun was long down and temperatures had returned to a squamate-chilling 52° F, my skepticism got the best of me, and I returned to the boot for another look. After probing around a bit I found what I was looking for: a little green lizard had returned to bed down for the rest of the mild Alabama winter.

Are Anolis aeneus active at night?

Recently here in Trinidad, West Indies, I came across an Anolis aeneus. I observed the individual at 1930 h; sun had set at 1810 h. It was perched vertically on a wall, roughly 1 m off the ground facing down – as if in a foraging position. There was a bright light shining over it. I’m curious as to whether this type of behavior has been noted before; are these anoles also known to be active at night?

Anolis cuvieri, the Lizard Star in the New Amazon Prime Show, Mad Dogs

Anolis cuvieri - Mad DogsAnolis cuvieri - Mad Dogs 2I was watching the new Amazon Prime Show, Mad Dogs. Episode 6 is called “Leslie” named after an Anolis cuvieri, which is a central character in the episode. I grabbed a screen shot of the animal, and then another screen shot with a character holding it. The show is set in Belize ( using my Anolis Forensics Skills I deduced it was not filmed there). I did verify later it was filmed in Puerto Rico.

This may be the most Anolis “screen time” I have ever seen in a movie or show.  Anolis may be about to breakout into mainstream Pop Culture; keep an eye out for the Oscar – Best use of Anolis in a Major Motion Picture.

Yet Another Salad Anole


Green Fruit Loop, the salad anole of Princeton, NJ

We’ve previously reported on anoles finding their way into commercial produce, with happy and not so happy outcomes. Count this story from Princeton, New Jersey as one of the happy ones…

A kindergartener at Riverside Elementary found this juvenile Anolis carolinensis in a bundle of lettuce that had been stored in the family refrigerator for three days. Although initially listless, the animal recovered quickly and now seems to be doing just fine living with her reptile enthusiast science teacher. The new class pet was named Green Fruit Loop and will hopefully serve as an anole ambassador at Riverside for years to come.

SICB 2016: Variation in Sperm Morphology of Native and Introduced Populations of Three Anolis Species


From left to right, Ariel Kahrl, Christian Cox, and Bob Cox.

Ariel Kahrl, Christian Cox, and Bob Cox.

Sperm morphology is highly variable across animals and is a great model for studying the evolution of sexually selected traits.

Ariel Kahrl, a Ph.D. student in Bob Cox’s lab at the University of Virginia, gave a talk on a study which she and coauthor Cox did just that. They sampled sperm from native and introduced populations of Anolis sagrei, A. distichus, and A. cristatellus to look at variation in morphology.

Variation in sperm morphology between native and introduced populations of three Anolis species.

Variation in sperm morphology between native and introduced populations of three Anolis species.

Interestingly, they found that introduced and native populations often varied in sperm morphology (i.e., head, midpiece, and tail lengths). Moreover, these effects were consistent between the three species tested!

Kahrl also pointed out that the variation observed in sperm morphology between males of a single species was often as large as that observed between different species. This study suggests that sperm morphology is highly plastic and/or is capable of rapid evolution in response to environmental change. Further work is needed to elucidate what selective pressures are driving the variation observed between introduced and native populations of these three species.

Knight Anole (Anolis equestris) Subspecies Question

KnightAnoleIMG_0856I photographed this knight anole 9 November 2015 at Criadero de Cocodrilos, Matanzas, Cuba. I tentatively assigned this one to Anolis equestris juraguensis based on the range map on page 257 in “Amphibians and Reptiles of the West Indies” by Schwartz and Henderson (1991).  However after reviewing the detailed descriptions in Schwartz & Garrido (1972), I believe this individual is a better match for nominate A. e. equestris. I base this primarily on the yellowish occipital patch and contrasting blue color on its head.  The range map in Schwartz & Garrido does not include this particular locality, but nominate is geographically close.   Confirmation or corrections are welcome.

Anole Calendars Now 30% Off. Watches, Too!

anole calendar 1 front

Your frugality has paid off! Through Wednesday, zazzle.com is having a 30% sale. That’s $15 per calendar. Stop missing appointments and get your calendar today. Code: SEMIYEARSALE

anole calendar 2

While you’re shopping on zazzle, check out the Anole Annals store there. All custom items are on sale for 30% off, including the ecomorph line of watches, ties, playing cards and more.


SICB 2016: Coloration and Social Interactions in Anolis carolinensis

Brittney Ivanov at SICB 2016

Brittney Ivanov at SICB 2016

Color changing behavior has been widely documented in many lizard taxa.For example, the green anole (Anolis carolinensis) can rapidly transition from a uniform green to brown-colored. In those taxa where color change is rapid (including the green anole), such behavior has been attributed to communication of socially relevant information such as aggression or dominance.  However, what information is conveyed through color change in A. carolinensis during social interactions remains an open question. Brittney Ivanov, a research technician in Michele Johnson’s lab at Trinity University performed experiments in captivity using lizards captured from the wild to examine this question.

Brittney captured 12 lizards of each sex, which were checked daily for coloration to assess the predominant coloration of each individual. She then paired lizards from the opposite sex and placed them together for 2 weeks to determine if coloration is used differently between naïve and novel pairs. Lastly, same-sex trials were performed in both male and female lizards to determine if coloration indicates higher social status.

Brittney found that males spent more time being green compared to females and that their predominant body color was consistent across social context or housing condition (living alone versus with a female). Predominantly green males also “won” more often in same-sex trials. Female coloration was not associated with the results of the same-sex trials, but females were found to be green more often when housed alone than when housed with a male. Brittney’s research suggests that coloration may be used differently between male and female green anoles and that for males, coloration may determine social status or competitive ability.

SICB 2016: Can Geckos Run Fast When It’s Wet Outside?

Austin Garner, an undergraduate at the University of Akron.

Austin Garner, an undergraduate at the University of Akron.

Anoles, geckos, and some species of skinks have adhesive toepads that allow them to cling to substrates. This adhesive ability is remarkable – anoles, for example, can hang from a glass pane using just one toe. Gecko adhesion is particularly well studied, but most research has focused on how these animals cling to dry surfaces. In their natural habitats, however, geckos often have to contend with wet surfaces.

Austin Garner, an undergraduate at the University of Akron working with Peter Niewiarowski, wanted to know whether geckos could move effectively on wet substrates. He measured sprinting performance in two species of gecko, Gekko gecko and Chondrodactylus bibronii, across a 2-meter vertical racetrack that was misted with water. Average sprint velocity on wet substrates did not differ significantly from the average sprint velocity on dry substrates, indicating that geckos can sprint equally fast on slippery surfaces. The substrate material, however, influenced how often geckos slipped. Geckos slipped more on glass substrates compared to acrylic substrates. Austin hypothesized that this is likely due to the surface chemistry of glass. Glass is a hydrophilic substrate, meaning that water is attracted to its surface more so than the surface of acrylic. Interestingly, the frequency of slipping differed among species. Chondrodactylus bibronii, a species of gecko from an arid habitat, slipped more often than G. gecko, a gecko found in the tropics. Although C. bibronii slipped more on wet substrates, this species did not suffer a decrease in average sprint velocity on wet substrates. This suggests that C. bibronii is somehow compensating for the slipping observed on wet substrates, but Austin is unsure of the mechanism behind this compensation. Overall, his study suggests that geckos can travel on wet substrates up to 2-meter without a reduction in their adhesive ability, and that at least one species of gecko can compensate for any loss of traction caused by the presence of water.

SICB 2016: Do Seasonal Changes in Developmental Temperature Have Season-Specific Fitness Consequences?

Many anoles have prolonged breeding seasons spanning from the late spring until the early fall. For part of his Master’s degree Phillip Pearson, a student in the Warner lab at Auburn University, asked whether the timing of oviposition is adaptively matched to a season’s thermal environment and if there are fitness consequences of early or late developmental temperatures in Anolis sagrei. They predicted that eggs laid early in the season (April-May) and were incubated under ‘early season’ temperatures would have higher hatchling fitness than under ‘late season’ (July-August) temperatures, and that late-produced eggs would have higher fitness in ‘late season’ temperatures than ‘early season’ temperatures.

To test this hypothesis Phillip collected adult males and females from the wild and brought them back to the lab to breed. He then collected eggs from March-April as the ‘early’ cohort and from July-August as the ‘late’ cohort. Each of these cohorts was then divided into two treatments with ‘early season’ and ‘late season’ incubation temperatures, resulting in four groups. Each hatchling was weighed, measured and assessed for sprint performance.

Phillip found that both the time of oviposition and the incubation temperature significantly affected the development of the hatchlings in several ways. First, eggs in both the early and late cohorts that were incubated under early temperatures had significantly longer incubation durations. Temperature also interacted with the season cohorts, so that the ‘late season’ cohort incubated under the late season temperatures had the shortest incubation duration (Figure 1A). Second, Phillip found a significant effect of season, incubation temperature and their interaction on egg survival, where the late season cohort that was incubated under late season temperatures had the highest survival (Figure 1B). However, he did not find a significant effect of either incubation temperature or season cohort on hatchling survival. Third, eggs that were laid in the late season cohort were significantly larger in mass, snout-vent length, and tail length at hatching than early-season eggs (Figure 1C). Finally, hatchlings from the ‘late season’ cohort had marginally faster sprint speeds, with more stops (Figure 1D).

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A. Incubation duration, B. egg survival, C. hatchling mass, and D. sprint speed for eggs oviposited in ‘early season’ and ‘late season’ cohorts raised under two different incubation temperatures.

Overall, Phillip’s results suggest that eggs laid later in the season and incubated under warmer late-season temperatures seem to have higher performance and fitness (in some cases). Currently, Phillip has released these hatchlings onto an island in Florida near the site of the parent population. He and the Warner lab will be going back this spring to assess survival of these hatchlings to get field-relevant data on survivorship under these two developmental treatments.

SICB 2016: Tradeoffs between Endurance and Speed in Lizards

Slide from Michele Johnson's SICB talk.

Slide from Michele Johnson’s SICB talk.

Muscles used for short, rapid movements should experience different physiological demands than those used for slow, stalking movements. Fortunately, lizards display a wide range of movement patterns from sit-and-wait foraging to slowly stalking prey. Thus, they are ideal for addressing questions on the evolution of muscle morphology, physiology, and behavior.

Dr. Michele Johnson and colleagues of Trinity University addressed such a question which Johnson presented during a talk at the SICB meeting in Portland. Although most studies of locomotion focus on the hindlimb, Johnson and colleagues wondered if forelimb muscle physiology is associated with lizard locomotor behavior. To address this, they made 30 minute observations on a minimum of 40 males of 6 species and recorded the frequency and type of locomotor behavior and social display. This information allowed them to classify lizards as “short-burst” species that often run, jump, and perform push-ups as a component of their social displays (green anole, Texas spiny lizard, northern curly tail) or “endurance” species that more frequently crawl (little brown skink, Mediterranean house gecko, spotted whiptail).

They found that short-burst species have more tonic fibers (involved in maintaining posture and balance) in the forelimb musculature, and endurance species have more twitch fibers (used during quick movement). In addition, species with more frequent locomotion had more twitch fibers. Relative fiber size increased in species that ran often and decreased with crawling behavior. Their study suggests that the evolution of forelimb fiber type is associated with the frequency of locomotion and that fiber size is associated with the speed of locomotion.

SICB 2016: Phenotypic Correlations Suggest Thermal Adaptation Is Constrained in Lizards and Ladybugs

A male brown anole basking on a tree.

A male brown anole basking on a tree.

Theory predicts that as environmental temperatures change, animals that function better at the new temperatures will be favored by natural selection. Thus, we might expect that climate warming will select for animals with higher thermal optimums (Topt). In addition, thermal performance curves are also characterized by the breadth of temperatures that animals can function. Theory predicts that increases in environmental temperature variation will select for animals with larger thermal breadths (Tbr). Previous work has shown that brown anoles transplanted to a warmer environment experienced strong directional selection favoring individuals with higher Topt and Tbr (Logan et al. 2014). However, it is unclear if selection acts on these two traits independently or if they might be genetically constrained.

Mike Logan, an NSF postdoctoral fellow at Stellenbosch University, gave a talk on a study that he and coauthors (John Curlis, Ingrid Minnaar, Joel McGlothlin, Susana Clusella-Trullas, and Bob Cox) conducted to test this question. They brought brown anoles into the lab and found a significant negative correlation between Topt and Tbr, suggesting that increases in one trait lead to reduction in the other. To test the generality of their findings, they brought ladybugs into the lab and conducted similar trials. Interestingly, they found the same results for ladybugs. This study suggests that these thermal adaptations are evolutionarily constrained in two very distant relatives.

Logan, M. L., Cox, R. M., & Calsbeek, R. 2014. Natural selection on thermal performance in a novel thermal environment. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 111(39):14165-14169.

SICB 2016: Evolution of Lizard Jaw Morphology in Association with Diet and Social Behavior


Leah Selznick presents her poster at SICB 2016.

Muscle and jaw morphology is highly variable among lizards, which could be driven, at least in, part by a species’ diet, intraspecific combat, or both. Leah Selznick of the Johnson lab at Trinity University collected data on the head dimensions, jaw muscle mass,  diet data (prey count), and estimates of sexual dimorphism (SSD) for seven species of lizards. Four of the species she examined – the leopard gecko, Northern curly tail, Texas spiny lizard, and the Carolina green anole – are saurophagous, meaning that they eat other lizards. The other three species – the Mediterranean house gecko, little brown skink, and spotted whiptail – do not eat other lizards. Leah predicted that saurophagous species and those with a higher variance in prey diet would also have larger heads and larger jaw muscles. Additionally, she predicted that species with higher sexual size dimorphism (SSD), a proxy for the strength of pre-copulatory selection on male body size, would be associated with larger jaw morphologies. First, she tested for phylogenetic signal in all of her traits and found strong signal for jaw muscle mass (λ = 0.99) and head size (λ = 0.65). She then tested for an association between both head size and jaw muscle mass (standardized by body mass) with species prey count and SSD. She found no correlation between any of the jaw morphologies and SSD or species prey count. Leah suggests that (1) there may be other traits that are experiencing selection due to prey size and combat and/or that (2) these traits may be experiencing evolutionary constraint. Leah is going to continue exploring the evolution of jaw morphology by examining the histology of the jaw muscle in these species to test for an association between muscle fiber composition and type with prey count and SSD.

Screen shot 2016-01-11 at 1.45.11 PM copy

Selznick compared two groups of lizard species: four saurophagous species, and three exclusively insectivorous species. Here, she shows the prey count, and SSD for each species used in her analysis.


SICB 2016: Urbanization, Predation, and Foraging

*This post was written by Brittney Ivanov, a research technician in Michele Johnson’s lab at Trinity University.*

Zac at SICB in Portland

Zac at SICB in Portland

Urbanization is a phenomenon that comes with human population growth and development worldwide. For humans, urbanization can be positive, providing jobs, housing, and consequentially more growth. However, urbanization can have drastic, negative effects on local animal species, forcing them to respond to a rapidly changing environment. Zac Chejanovski, a Ph.D. student in Jason Kolbe’s lab at the University of Rhode Island, studied this phenomenon in the foraging behavior in one anole species: the invasive brown anole, Anolis sagrei.

Anolis sagrei are found across a range of habitats with varying degrees of urbanization. Zac predicted that an anole’s perceived risk during foraging is related to the degree of urbanization in its habitat. To test this, he set up plates of mealworms near wild A. sagrei and determined their latency to feed. He found that those lizards living in the most natural forested habitat had the shortest latency to feed, whereas those from suburban and urban habitats were much slower to take advantage of foraging opportunities. These results provide support for the idea that an anole’s perceived risk during foraging is related to habitat urbanization.

Taking this a step further, Zac decided to consider the effects of a known anole predator, Leiocephalus carinatus (curly tail lizards), which inhabits some urban environments, on foraging behavior. He wanted to know if A. sagrei foraging behaviors differed between urban habitats with curly tails and those without. To test this prediction, in both habitats Zac determined the amount of time that A. sagrei naturally spent on the ground (i.e., ground use), their latency to feed, and their ground use when presented with a mealworm. He found that in urban habitats where curly tails are present, A. sagrei’s ground use increased when curly tail activity decreased. In addition, during the times when curly tails are least active, Zac found no differences in latency to feed or ground use between A. sagrei from urban habitats with and without curly tails. Together, these results suggest that A. sagrei are adjusting their foraging behaviors in response to not only urbanization, but predation risk as well.

SICB 2016: Morphology and Movement of Puerto Rican Ecomorphs

Kathleen Foster, a Ph.D. student in Tim Higham’s biomechanics lab at the University of California, Riverside, gave an interesting talk on how different anole ecomorphs use their limbs. We characterize Anolis species by the portion of the habitat they use (e.g. twig/bush, trunk-ground). Species of the different ecomorphs often show stark differences in external morphology and behavior, which have evolved to match the microhabitat they use. Foster hypothesized that those differences in morphologies may lead to differences in locomotor kinematics.

Foster used high-speed video cameras to record lizards running on surfaces of different diameter and inclination, and digitized forelimb and hind limb joints in all the trials. She compared the limb movements of six Puerto Rican Anolis species, using two species from each of the grass-bush, trunk-ground, and trunk-crown ecomorphs. Using multivariate analyses, she found three major results:  All ecomorphs used a similar strategy of modulating their hind limbs differently than their forelimbs when moving on the different inclines. Interestingly, when comparing ecomorphs, Foster showed that grass-bush species used both their forelimbs and their hindlimbs differently than the other ecomorphs. Furthermore, the two species within the grass-bush ecomorph use their forelimbs differently than each other.

Check out some of Kathleen’s other projects on her website.