More on the Intriguing Anole of Curacao, Anolis lineatus

Anolis lineatus. Photo by Jonathan Losos

Matt Brandley recently posted on the remarkable anole of Curaçao,  Anolis lineatus, which is notable for having a dewlap that is different on its two sides. Taking advantage of an invitation to participate in a conference in Aruba in January (the travails of life as a scientist), I’ve come to Curaçao to check up on this lizard, which I’ve never previously seen. The dewlap situation sounds remarkable, but there’s a second reason this species is of interest.

Many islands in the Lesser Antilles are home to only one anole species, and the anoles on these islands are renowned for the extent of their convergent evolution to each other and to trunk-crown anoles of the Greater Antilles. Schoener was the first to show that one-species island anoles tend to be remarkably similar in body size, a pattern reaffirmed most recently by Poe et al. The convergence extends beyond size, however, as these species also are very similar in their habitat use (similar to trunk-crown anoles in being arboreal but using a wide range of microhabitats) and their body proportions, such as the length of their limbs and the size of their toepads.

That leads to the question: is this a phenomenon solely of the Lesser Antilles and the two anole lineages that occur there (the bimaculatus Group anoles in the northern half of the island chain and the roquet Group in the south)? Or do solitary anoles anywhere converge on this pattern? Anolis lineatus is a particularly good test, because it comes from a lineage (the chrysolepis species group, about which we will hear more soon) that is not only distantly related to the other two, but is composed of anoles whose habitat and morphology are nothing like those of the solitary anoles.

So, I’m aiming to not only take a peek at lineatus’s throat fan, but also collect data on where it occurs and what it’s morphology looks like. First indications are that lineatus is a chunky anole, not unlike some solitary anoles such as marmoratus or oculatus, but perhaps more similar to trunk-ground anoles than to trunk-crowns.

Habitat-wise, though, lineatus is clearly a surprise—it’s not very arboreal, at least in my day and a fraction of data collection. It’s usually pretty low to the ground, rarely over 1.5 meters high, and often on large rocks or rock walls. More like a trunk-ground anole than a trunk-crown. Moreover, though I’ve been looking for it in the vicinity of human habitations, I’ve yet to see it on a building wall. Bottom line: it’s just not that arboreal.

To be honest, the anole that immediately comes to mind is Anolis gingivinus. This species is a bit hard to categorize: it occurs on some Lesser Antillean islands by itself, but on others it is sympatric with a second species (A. pogus). Moreover, on all islands, it tends to be found relatively low to the ground and not surprisingly, morphologically it’s more trunk-ground-like than typical solitary anoles. Of course, I haven’t actually seen gingivinus in nearly 20 years, so my memory may be faulty.

And we shouldn’t forget the Malice of Nature, which leads me expect to open my door tomorrow and see an anole on the ground, which immediately runs up the wall and out of sight.

By the way, there are other cool lizards here. Lots of green iguanas, for example, but also the very cool and herbivorous Cnemidophorus murinus, endemic to Curaçao and nearby Bonaire.

Cnemidophorus murinus. Photo by Jonathan Losos


About Jonathan Losos

Professor and Curator of Herpetology at the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University. I've spent my entire professional career studying anoles and have discovered that the more I learn about anoles, the more I realize I don't know.

6 thoughts on “More on the Intriguing Anole of Curacao, Anolis lineatus

  1. My experience with A. chrysolepis (on Tobago [yes, Tobago]) is it is also a low-lying anole that will disappear in the leaf litter if disturbed – so perhaps terrestriality is general to this lineage?

    Also, don’t forget to find Gonatodes antillensis while you’re down there – it’s also a “mold breaker” because it’s nocturnal and has vertical pupils (unlike the rest of the genus).

  2. The whiptail in the photo is indeed an adult male Cnemidophorus murinus. However, in a recent paper Dr. Michael Harvey and myself restricted this taxon to Curacao and Klein Curacao. The population from Bonaire, which was considered a subspecies, was elevated to species (C. ruthveni). Here is the link:

  3. I love those big Cnemidophorus! When Teresa and I first started working at Carmabi, we kept waking up in the morning to find rather large turds in the middle of the kitchen floor, with no obvious source. Our primary suspect was a troupial that liked to come sing in the kitchen in the morning, but the dumps were pretty much always in the middle of the floor, far away from any plausible perch sites. After we’d been there for a couple of weeks, Teresa noticed a bit of a tail poking out from under the gas stove. We moved the stove and found a huge male Cnemidophorus, who had apparently been using the kitchen as his own little hideaway!

  4. Tree times in the last 25 years I have seen Anolis lineatus. He took my special atention because of his behaviar showing his dewlap to other Anolis and sometimes when I did not see any other Anlolis. I remember that it was not posible with my camara to make a good picture of these animals they lived and hided themselves on the marvelous trunk from Haematoxylon brasiletto. It was in the “village”Lagun near West Punt and very dry People in Willemstad told me that they lay their eggs in de soil and I have seen also two times in the same year Anolis on or close to walls from a hotel and a house. Both were places with plants growing in a kind of trough made from stone ore concrete attached to the building.
    The water that was given to the plants makes will atract also insects because water is
    most time of the year not available. Atracting insects means also attract insecteters as Anolis. And the soft moist soil is a good soil to hide the eggs.
    This year I saw several days in the afternoon when I was reading a book the same Anolis man on the trunk of a Tamarindus indica. This animal was not very shy and we became more or less friends becayse he give me the posibility to make good pictures from him by acting very slowly because I had good pictures I went on reading en suddely he was on the ground and run back to his tree to eat the insect he had got.
    Once when I had taken pictures again because he was every day between 14.00 and 16.00 on the same trunk I could not take a picture because he jumped from my camarabag on my camara when he almost walked over the book I was reading.
    Also this house had some flowerpots and as a guest house some nearly alwayss dripping airconditings, my opinion ( only a opinion I did not investigate this) is that near thee houses and the walls they have a more easy living than in thear habitats in the nature. The animal I have seen this year several afternoons missed a little part of his tail. In this mail it was not posible for me to attach a picture.
    Greetings from the Netherlands J. Kicken

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