Species ID from Bimini – A. sagrei or distichus?

After looking through my photos from my trip last week to Bimini in the Bahamas, I was disappointed when I realized that none of us seemed to have any pictures of Anolis distichus. Or maybe we did? Among all the typical sagrei-looking anole photos was this guy:

Anolis distichus or Anolis sagrei???

Anolis distichus or Anolis sagrei???

Without telling you why I thought this was a distichus, or why others I have asked are torn between distichus and sagrei, I am curious what people think. What species is this?

Video of a Fight Between Two Female Brown Anoles

Compared with our extensive knowledge of male-male interactions, we know very little about how females interact with one another. Adding to a growing set of observations, here is some video (taken by my field assistant and seasoned anole videographer Jon Suh) of two bead-tagged female brown anoles mid-battle.

Both females are recent arrivals to this particular tree, and the lizard that remains on the tree at the end is marginally bigger than the one who leaves. Though I don’t think we witnessed the full interaction, I think it’s interesting that the females didn’t use their dewlaps in the course of this fight. This seems to match up with Ellee Cook’s description of a fight between two female A. gundlachiThe use of the dewlap by females has been observed during male-female interactions in A. cristatellusA. armouri  and a few other species, but also during female-female interactions in some Central American anoles. Clearly we’ve got a long way to go before we characterize and understand agonistic encounters and display behaviour in female anoles!

Field Trip Recap: Herps of Bimini, The Bahamas


Searching for Anolis sagrei on the beautiful island of Bimini

Anolis sagrei on the beautiful island of Bimini

I just got back from a 10 day research trip to Bimini in the western Bahamas along with Harvard post-doc, Graham Reynolds, Harvard graduate student, Pavitra Muralidhar, and UMass Boston undergraduate, Jason Fredette. We went with the simple goals of kicking off a research project in the Losos lab on Anolis sagrei  and to observe as many other herps as we could.

We spent the majority of our time on South Bimini. We sampled from the well-maintained Nature Trail, where we found all four anole species (Anolis sagreiAnolis smaragdinusAnolis angusticeps, and Anolis distichus) and a Bimini boa among diverse habitat types, including blackland coppice and open Coccothrinax shrub. We also spent a couple of nights searching in some mangrove forest near the airport, which yielded only A. sagrei and A. angusticeps and in low abundance at that. The “Fountain of Youth” ended up being a gold mine for Sphaerodactylus nigropunctatus as well as boas — we caught 3 here.

We also did a fair amount of exploring. Our hosts for our house rental wanted to make sure we had a great time in Bimini and so they insisted on boating us out to a couple of the nearby islands for some snorkeling. Of course, we saw this as the perfect opportunity to catch a few lizards. Our first destination was Gun Cay, a small island a few miles to the south of Bimini. Pavitra and Jason entertained our hosts by collecting shells and feeding stingrays. Meanwhile, despite our hosts’ curiosity that we wanted to go wander in the brush, Graham and I nabbed 10 adult male A. sagrei in less than an hour. We also saw several Ameiva auberiAnolis smaragdinus, and some sort of very large rodent (does anyone know about Hutia reintroductions in the Bahamas?).

The following day, our hosts insisted we come with them to a small island 20+ miles to the north of Bimini (Great Isaac Cay) where they promised us dolphins and hammerhead sharks. On the way to the island we saw several dolphins, tons of flying fish, sea turtles, and several large nurse sharks. As we approached the island, I saw the mature Casuarina forest and yelled down to Graham from the crow’s nest tower, “I want to go explore there!”  Our hosts got us as close as they could to the rocky shore (dangerously close it seemed, the hull almost hit the rocky karst island) and all four of us hopped onto the island. The island had an abandoned lighthouse and buildings from the 1800’s that we explored. We were shocked to not find a single anole on Isaac Island, although we did find Sphaerodactylus nigropunctatus and Ameiva auberi.

The isolated Great Isaac Cay with ruins from the late 1800's.

The isolated Great Isaac Cay with ruins from the late 1800’s.

The trip was a huge success. In total, we came across all but five of the reptiles of Bimini. Surprisingly, we were unable to find any Bahamian racers (Alsophis vudii) other than roadkills, though most of our field time was at night. Unsurprisingly, we did not find either of the blind snakes or the dwarf boa, the latter of which tends to be more common in the rainy season. As expected, A. sagrei was the most abundant anole on Bimini. We came across A. angusticeps and A. smaragdinus with equal frequency and actually encountered only a few A. distichus. We did most of our searching at night, so this may be a reflection on different sleeping behaviors rather than abundance.

In summary, we were able to observe:

  • 140+ Anolis sagrei males and females
  • Sphaerodactylus nigropunctatus (black-dotted dwarf gecko)
  • Sphaerodactylus argus (ocellated dwarf gecko)
  • Dozens of Leiocephalus carinatus (curly-tail lizard)
  • Chilabothrus strigilatus fosteri (Bimini boa)
  • a handful of Anolis distichusAnolis smaragdinusAnolis angusticeps

We also saw a number of other herps that we were not able to catch or didn’t need data from:

  • Ameiva auberi (Bimini ameiva)
  • Eleutherodactylus planirostris (greenhouse frog)
  • Osteopilus septentrionalis (Cuban tree frog)
  • Hemidactylus mabouia (invasive house gecko)


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Placing Extinct Species in a Molecular Phylogeny Using Quantitative Characters: A Case Study Using Anolis roosevelti

Liam Revell writes:

My co-authors (Luke Mahler, Graham Reynolds, & Graham Slater) and I recently presented a ‘new’ method for placing recently extinct taxa into a backbone molecular phylogeny on the basis of quantitative trait data. I say ‘new’ with quotes, because our methods derives closely, with full credit given where due, from a Maximum Likelihood phylogeny inference approach presented originally by Felsenstein (1981, 2002).

The idea is basically as follows. We start with a time-calibrated molecular phylogeny containing N – 1 species, and a single taxon of interest (the Nth taxon) whose placement in the tree is of interest, but for which molecular characters are missing. If we have quantitative trait data from one or more characters for all N species in the tree, we can use an approach based on Felsenstein (1981) to add this taxon to our base phylogeny using the statistical criterion of Maximum Likelihood.Revell_etal.Figure3_1In our article (Revell et al. 2015), we demonstrate that the method works pretty well in theory. In fact, for more than a few quantitative characters & particularly for trees of large size, the method often places the missing taxon in our dataset in a topological position that is identical to its true position. (See figure below, reproduced from our article.) In the figure, white bars show the performance of our method (compared to grey bars which represent placement at random). In all cases, lower values indicate that the estimated tree is closer to the generating tree.

The question you’re probably asking yourself (and quite rightly so) is: what could this possibly have to do with anoles? The answer is that we applied the method to the unusual case of Anolis roosevelti. Anolis roosevelti, as many readers of this blog likely already know, is a mysterious crown-giant anole from Culebra and (probably) the Spanish, U.S., and British Virgin Islands, excluding St. Croix. It is only known from a few specimens and was last collected in 1932. Aside from some unconfirmed reports, it has neither been seen nor heard from since. Unfortunately – and tragically given the impressive nature of this creature – all but the most optimistic anole biologists agree that this species is most likely extinct. (Many of us, the author included, still holds out hope, of course.) The figure below shows the type specimen of this impressive creature. (Figure from our article and image courtesy of the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard.)

figure2Since no prior investigator has collected molecular characters from this species, and the prospects for so doing in the future are somewhat mixed (for reasons that we explain in the article), we thought Anolis roosevelti would represent an interesting test case for our method. Would A. roosevelti, we asked ourselves, fall out as sister to the Puerto Rican crown-giant, Anolis cuvieri, as sister-to or nested-within the rest of Puerto Rican anoles, or in another part of the tree entirely? Continue reading

Amazonian Anole Displays

The last time I was on Anole Annals, I posted about the peculiar display of Anolis ortonii from the Tiputini Biodiversity Station in eastern Ecuador. Nearly two years later, I was lucky enough to return to the area for another month and bring back some more videos of Amazonian anoles. Unfortunately I never saw Anolis trachyderma or A.chrysolepis show off their dewlaps, but here are three other species.

First up is Anolis fuscoauratus. I didn’t encounter many individuals of this species compared to my first trip, perhaps the differences in seasonality are to blame. I luckily shot this footage only a few days before leaving.

Next is Anolis punctatus, which was surprisingly abundant. I’ll be posting more videos of A. punctatus later as I was lucky enough to observe many other behaviors, but here is the display of at least three different individuals. All of these lizards were found high up in the canopy except for the second to last clip.

Finally, while not as visibly abundant as its cousin, I was fortunate to come across Anolis transversalis. I was photographing some Plica plica on a large ficus, when this lizard descended and scampered across the buttress roots. Eventually it jumped onto an adjacent thin tree and displayed a few times before climbing higher into the canopy.

But this story ends on a sad note. Four days later I was around the same tree when an anole ran down the trunk with an insect in its mouth.

I assume it was the same individual from the other day given the same location, but I can’t be sure. This time he was displaying more vigorously before his arrogance got the best of him. While I was adjusting my camera to get closer a bird swooped in and when I looked up there was no lizard. I never saw A. transversalis on that tree again.

(Anolis transversalis)

Rest In Peace

Identify These Puerto Rican Anoles

Bill Schlesinger, one of the world’s most eminent biogeochemists and President Emeritus of the Cary Institute of Ecosystems Studies, turns out to have an eagle eye for anoles. While on a birding trip to Puerto Rico, his wife, writer Lisa Dellwo, snapped the photos below in the rainforest in the west central part of the island. Which species are they?

Lizards Falling out of the Trees in the Rainforest


Piero Angeli Ruschi from the Ornithology Department in the National Museum in Rio de Janeiro sent the pictures of Anolis punctatus shown here. His story:


It’s raining lizards!

“These are the pictures that I took of one of the Anolis specimens that had fallen that day. They fell from the canopy straight to open ground over an area of ~70 squared meters. About 10 specimens fell within ~3 min. It happened in Santa Lucia Ecological Station, at Santa Teresa, ES, Brazil in late september 2007 during the afternoom while I monitored a woodpecker nest.

The individuals were all the same as the one in that picture…green with a yellow circle around the eye…Those pictures might even include more than one individual—I am not sure if the one photographed on the ground was the same I captured (they stayed knocked out for a minute or so before running from where they landed).


I wish I had more data to publish a communication about it, as well as more evidence to explain the cause of it. My ornithological background leads me to the alternative hypothesis of some sort of “arena,” but I have no idea if such thing can be expected for these lizards.”

Piero Angeli Ruschi in his day jobobserving birds

Piero Angeli Ruschi in his day job observing birds


A Sad Mystery: Dying Green Anoles In Gainesville

At the risk of developing the reputation of being the harbinger of bad news, I’m here to report what seems to be an epidemic of sorts afflicting the green anoles in Gainesville, FL. In the last two years in this town, veteran AA correspondent Thom Sanger and I have noticed a number of very sickly and dead Anolis carolinensis. Here are some photos from last summer:

A sickly green anole that died the next morning. Photo by Thom Sanger.

A sickly green anole that died the next morning. Photo by Thom Sanger.


We saw these animals in the later summer months, and Thom wondered if they might have died from ingesting insects that had been contaminated with insecticides sprayed to control mosquitoes. But a few days ago, my field assistant Jon Suh saw another mysteriously dead green anole, and it’s too early in the year for it to be explained by pesticide. This was in my fieldsite in the UF campus, where I haven’t seen any cats. The lizard also didn’t appear to have any botflies or other large parasites on it (though I’m not sure what that blue spot is…).


It’s worth noting that we have seen no dead brown anoles in the same sites, so it appears that the cause of these lizards’ demise is species specific. Also, we haven’t noticed any dead lizards in the state parks just outside the city, so it seems to be specific to urban areas. Does anyone have any ideas about what might be afflicting these lizards?

Help Identify a Large Costa Rican Anole


I was just curious if any one could help me identify an anole I found in central Costa rica, near San Ramon in the Alberto Manuel Brenese Biological Reserve. It appears to be a male, and I’m assuming in the Dactyloa genus. My guess would be the Dactyloa casildae, but I am family uncertain. It would be greatly appreciated if someone could help me out! Cheers and good health!

The Social Life of Lizards Revealed: Lizard Social Behavior Research in Gainesville

If you’re in Gainesville and come across a site like this, odds are you’re not at a crime scene, but rather Ambika Kamath’s study site, where she’s investigating the social organization of brown anoles. The standard view of anole social structure is that a male brown anole defends a large territory, excluding all other males and courting the several females that reside therein. Ambika’s work to date suggests that reality is a lot more complicated. Ambika provides an in-depth discussion of what she’s doing and why on her blog .

Cellular Mechanism of Tail Regeneration in Anolis carolinensis

Green anole with a regrowing tail. Photo from Daffodil’s Photo Blog.

Lorenzo Alibardi is conducting detailed studies of what the cells are doing as the tail regenerates. His latest work is now available online in the Journal of Morphology. Here’s the abstract:

Using an antibody against a lizard telomerase-1 component the presence of telomerase has been detected in regenerating lizard tails where numerous cells are proliferating. Immunoblots showed telomerase positive bands at 75–80 kDa in normal tissues and at 50, 75, and 90 kDa in those regenerating. Immunofluorescence and ultrastructural immunolocalization showed telomerase-immunoreactivity in sparCe (few/diluted) mesenchymal cells of the blastema, early regenerating muscles, perichondrium of the cartilaginous tube, ependyma of the spinal cord, and in the regenerating epidermis. Clusters of gold particles were detected in condensing chromosomes of few mesenchymal and epithelial cells in the regenerating tail, but a low to undetectable labeling in interphase cells. Telomeraseimmunoreactivity was intense in the nucleus and sparCe (few/diluted) in the cytoplasm of spermatogonia and spermatocytes and drastically decreased in early spermatids where some nuclear labeling remains. Some intense immunoreactivity was seen in few cells near the basal membrane of intestinal enterocytes or in leukocytes (likely lymphocytes) of the intestine mucosa. In spermatogonia, spermatids and in enterocytes part of the nuclear labeling formed cluster of gold particles in dense areas identified as Cajal Bodies, suggesting that telomerase is a marker for these stem cells. This therefore suggests that all of the sparCe (few/diluted) telomerase positive cells detected in the regenerating tail may represent sparCe (few/diluted) stem cells localized in regenerating tissues where transit amplifying cells are instead preponderant to allow for tail growth. This observation supports previous studies indicating that few stem cells are present in the stump after tail amputation and give rise to transit amplifying cells for tail regeneration.

A Four-Tailed Brown Anole

Four-tailed Anolis sagrei. Photo by Lynne Carpenter Ingram.

Four-tailed Anolis sagrei. Photo by Lynne Carpenter Ingram.

Photo by Lynne Carpenter Ingram

Photo by Lynne Carpenter Ingram

Lynne Carpenter Ingram took this photo of a quadricolous (I made that word up) brown anole. Here’s what she had to say on her Facebook page: “Last Sept I posted some pictures of a lizard I have living in my backyard, that had grown three tails, or partial tails. I have an update. Not only is he still alive, he now has a fourth piece growing. I noticed he had an injury to his tail about a month or so ago, and now a new piece is growing out of that spot. i remember a lot of people asked to permission to share the last photos i took. Please feel free to share. Taken in Broward County, FL, with a Nikon D7000 and a Tamron 90mm SP Di lens.”

Anybody ever seen anything like this?


Great Lizard-Watching Binos on Sale


My favorite brand of binos for lizard watching are steeply discounted right now. In optics–binoculars, cameras, etc.–you get what you pay for: more expensive units are generally of higher quality. Nevertheless, there’s a sweet spot that maximizes your bang for the buck, and that sweet spot in binos, I contend, is Eagle optics 8×32. Normally retailing at $380 or so, these have high quality lens and a good feel in the hand. And, most importantly, they can focus on lizards three feet away! Many binoculars are made for bird watchers and can’t focus anywhere near that close, making them not useful for looking at small objects such as lizards. And now the good news: the glasses are currently discounted to $239. Get ‘em while the supplies last! You might also consider the 10×32’s. They don’t focus as close–a respectable 8′ according to the specs–but they do give greater magnification. And they’re more than half off.


High Population Density Estimate of the Crested Anole in Puerto Rico


Photo by Jim Ackerman

AA correspondent Liam Revell reports from Puerto Rico:

For the past three weeks I have been running an activity with Jim Ackerman’s integrative ecology laboratory students that Jim has dubbed (perhaps with a touch of irony) the Great Anole Survey. The objective of this survey is to measure the species richness of anoles (three, it turns out) and the population density of the most common species (the Puerto Rican crested anole, Anolis cristatellus) in a small urban forest called Bosque Centenario on the Río Piedras campus of the University of Puerto Rico here in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Over three capture sessions, with groups of students ranging between from about three to ten, we made 99 captures of 80 different adult male A. cristatellus in the 1.5 hectare area of Bosque Centenario. Bosque Centenario, as far as I can tell, is an abandoned, highly disturbed, open area or old sports field that consists of grassy area, some wetland, and patches of trees. Lizards were found mostly on trees, but were also observed using concrete and various PVC pipes as perches.

Our data collection ended last Friday, but we finally ran the numbers today. We used two methods to estimate the population size within this open forest patch. Due to variability in our collection effort by day, we first pooled sessions 1 & 2 into a single “marking” session in which 53 distinct animals were marked. We then treated the 3rd session, with 40 captures including 13 marked animals, as the “recapture” session and estimated the population size of adult males from these two numbers with the Petersen method (analysis 1). We also used only sessions 2 & 3 with the Petersen method (analysis 2), and finally the Schnabel method with all three mark and capture sessions (analysis 3).

By the Petersen method in analysis 1, we obtained a population size estimate of 157.1 (95% CI: 111.6, 235.6). In analysis 2, also using the Petersen method but with only data from mark & recapture sessions 2 & 3, we obtained a highly similar estimate, but with broader confidence limits, of N = 163.0 (114.7, 286.7). Finally, by the Schnabel method and using data from all three sampling sessions, we obtained an estimate of N = 147.8 (100.3, 255.3).

Given that this population estimate is from an area that Google Maps area calculator’s suggests is no more than about 1.5 hectares in size, this is quite an impressive number. The only prior study to quantitatively estimate population density of Anolis cristatellus in its native range is Genet (2002), and they found maximum densities of 68.0 male Anolis cristatellus per hectare – well below our lowest estimate of 147 individuals in 1.5 hectares, or about 98 adult males per hectare. That study also obtained population density estimates for juveniles and females, which they found to be significantly more dense than males – and I would guess that this is also true of our site (although we didn’t measure it).

Finally, some potential limitations include the fact that the Schnabel & Petersen estimators both assume a closed population. Our population is technically ‘open’ – but anyone that has studied adult male A. cristatellus knows that in the span of a few weeks, adult males are not going very far! We no doubt violated other assumptions of the method with our sampling protocol, but I will note that we marked 80 unique adult males in 1.5 hectares, and plenty of unmarked animals remained – so 150 in the whole plot seems more than reasonable, if not conservative.

For the record, the other two anoles we found in Bosque Centenario were Anolis pulchellus and the adaptable generalist A. stratulus.

“High Blue” Green Anole?

This unusual anole was spotted in my backyard in Miami, Florida (West Kendall area) on 16 March 2015. I’ve never seen a green anole this ornate with such a prominent nape crest, blue spotting, blue eye ring, and scapular spot! There were two males pumped up full of testosterone displaying and chasing each other in a stand of bamboo. Could this be a species other than A. carolinensis? Or maybe it’s a “high blue” green anole. In any case, it was a spectacular find for the day :-)

Seen in Miami, FL 16 March 2015 by Marc Kramer DVM.

Seen in Miami, FL 16 March 2015 by Marc Kramer DVM.

New Video Game Uses Anoles to Teach Ecological Principles

Way cool. Check out it her. Based on actual research by Louie Yang and colleagues at UC-Davis.

Here’s the press release about it:

Budding Biologist™’s Lizard Island™ is a fun and scientifically accurate video game for K-5 players to teach observation, measurement and reasoning skills. Lizard Island™ teaches students about ecology by allowing them to catch and tag lizards as they explore multiple islands in the Bahamas.  Kayaking from one island to the next, players must capture, mark and measure all the lizards on the island. As players search for lizards, they see the rich biodiversity on each island and can click on plants and animals for more information.  Advancing through the levels leads to larger, more complex islands to explore and glean data from.

 Based on 30 years of scientific data collected from microislands in the Bahamas the game draws upon research and photographs from scientists at the University of California-Davis. Katy Castronovo, the artist, has combined island photographs with her own artwork to create plant and animal life on the island, including hermit crabs, buttonwood plants, pearl necklace plants, and joewoods.  Programmer Walter Hsiao portrays the lizards as realistically as possible in terms of breathing and movement.  Lizards have subtle size and pattern changes to help players understand differences among animals of the same species.

Players have three choices for catching lizards.  They can use one finger to draw a complete circle around the lizard, they can use a lasso, which works by tilting the tablet in order to get the loop of the lasso around the lizard or they can use their limited number of photos to grab a picture of a sly lizard that is hard to catch.  Players must be careful not to scare the lizard with movements that are either too fast or too slow, and the more time a player spends trying to catch an individual lizard, the more the lizard become skittish. Lizards can only be caught if the player is zoomed all the way in, accomplished by using two fingers and spreading them apart.  To have a view of the island as a whole, players can use two fingers to pinch together and zoom out.  Zooming out gives players a sense of the size of the island and gives clues for where the lizards may be hiding, since they are often found under plants.

A bar along the bottom of the screen fills with color as a player catches more lizards, so players can guess how far along they are for their level.  The number of lizards increases as players reach higher levels.  Once a lizard is caught, the player discovers information about the lizard, such as sex and health.   Players measure the lizard themselves so they can compare sizes of lizards on different islands. Players then tag the lizard by selecting a paint color that appears on the lizard’s back. Players will have the ability to view statistics about the lizards they have caught: how many on each island, the sex of the lizards, lizard sizes, and lizard territories. They record this data in their field notebook, as well as facts and observations about the lizards.  Players can also observe and learn about the other plants, animals and insects. They can record these observations and the facts they learn about the other organisms in their field notebook. For added fun, the longer the player spends on the island, the more likely they are to get pooped on by a bird flying overhead!