Anolis equestris in south Florida

This young Anolis equestris was enjoying the recent bloom of a royal palm here in south Florida. After the freeze in 2010 there was a sharp decline in Anolis equestris (kill rate perhaps as high as 80%). The Iguana iguana population declined by 95% or more (so much for the “invasive invasion”). What has resulted from this die-off is that now I see many more of these young A. equestris. This particular specimen most likely hatched out last spring, there is also a smaller sized batch that must have hatched out in the fall. This staggered series of young animals is something I had not observed previously. Adult Anolis equestris (particularly the males) are notorious cannibals and young equestris are much slower and less agile than A. sagrei, A. porcatus, and A. distichus which often elude the sprinting attacks of equestris.

 There have been a number of citations of equestris eating birds and small rodents. Anolis equestris are opportunistic predators and will undoubtedly take fledglings if possible. I have seen mocking birds chase equestris from trees because they see them as threats, however, their fabled predatory exploits have been largely exaggerated. For nearly forty years I have made numerous field observations of A. equestris in south Florida. What I have found is that they spend their time much like their smaller anolis counterparts snapping up small arthropods. In fact, a fair proportion of their food intake isn’t even animal matter; instead, it consists of plant matter, particularly when the various ficus species and palms are fruiting. They will also lick palm blooms for pollen and nectar as well as feed on fallen over ripe fruits such as mangoes, and sapodillas. Their impact on native species has also been overstated. With the exception of palmetto bugs (Eurycotis floridana) and a few other arthropods the vast majority of the equestris diet consists of non-native species (both plant and animal). One of their favorite foods on warm summer mornings are Cuban tree frogs (Osteopilus septentrionalis) as they return to their daytime hiding places. As the apex lizard predator, they will also eat all the other exotic anolis and gecko species. Equestris is also eaten by native predators like the gray squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis), black racers (Coluber constrictor priapus), and (at least in one observation) screech owls (Megascops asio), as well as numerous exotics like house cats and cattle egrets.

Although Anolis equestris exists in virtually all the counties in extreme southern Florida, they are predominantly an urban and suburban species living almost exclusively in disturbed habitats where they have carved out a nitch for themselves. I have never seen equestris in the heart of the Everglades or Big Cypress Swamp; they seem to depend on the complex biologically diverse food web that has been artificially created by human activity.
Anolis equestris mate throughout the rainy season in south Florida, beginning in late spring and ending in mid fall. Three to four weeks after mating, the females will excavate a shallow depression in the soil and leaf litter near the base of a tree where they will lay one or two eggs. She will repeat the laying process several times (often near the same location). The laying will usually occur during the early morning hours every six to eight days. The eggs will normally hatch out in 60 to 90 days depending on the temperature and weather. I suspect that many eggs survived the freeze in 2010 because the nightly freezing temperatures never lasted long during the daylight hours. When the population reaches its critical mass again in a few years, I suspect fewer and fewer young equestris will reach adulthood due to cannibalistic predation. Anolis equestris are long lived and are able to survive from 10 to 15 years in the wild. They grow quickly and are adult size (12”-13”) in two to three years, but, if they stay healthy, they will continue to grow at a reduced rate for the remainder of their lives. Before the freeze I had examined a few 16-17” individuals.

21 thoughts on “Anolis equestris in south Florida

  1. I hadn’t noticed such a precipitous decline in the numbers of A. equestris in South Miami between 2009 and 2010 (although my general impression of the impact of the cold snap on green iguanas is consistent with the 95% decline that you describe). In terms of lizard prey, they don’t limit themselves to anoles and geckos — my field assistants found this adult A. equestris swallowing a Basiliscus vittatus about half its own size:

  2. Great photograph Neil! Was that taken near Red Road by the waterway? I agree, equestris will feed on anything smaller than itself. I’ve been told that in Broward County they will also take Bahamian curly tails, though I have not observed it myself. As far as the freeze in 2010 is concerned, the equestris that had fallen from the trees were all dead by the third morning. I managed to pick up a few dozen the second day and brought them indoors. Half developed a form of necrosis in parts of their bodies and never recovered, several more became permanently blind and I ended up euthanizing them.

  3. Armando,
    Thanks for the fabulous report on the natural history of this surprisingly little known species. Fascinating.

  4. Thank you Jonathan. The various species of exotic Anolis in south Florida have always interested me. I hope to obtain a better camera so that I can share photographs of these in their adopted south Florida habitats. There are at least eight species and several distinct populations (of perhaps hybridized animals) that are as you say, fascinating.

    1. Get that camera. Inquiring minds need to see these photos! And what are the eight invasives these days? garmani, cybotes, sagrei, cristatellus, distichus, equestris, porcatus…is chlorocyanus still around?

  5. Hi Armando,
    Very cool post! Something I have wondered is whether or not females lay eggs at the base of one the trees in their territory, or if they lay them at the base of another tree. They are, as you note, very cannibalistic. Do the hatchlings climb up the tree where they were laid, or do they disperse to another tree first? Do they go straight up to the canopy, or do they spend some time at lower heights until they gain some size? Basically, what’s to stop a female A. equestris from cannibalizing her own young?
    Thanks! -Martha

  6. That’s a great question Martha! I’m not really sure, but, what I have observed is that newly hatched equestris are never found in the larger trees; instead they take up residence in smaller trees or shrubs where they feed on young A. Sagrei, etc… (their hatching periods coincide). As a kid I remember a key lime shrub in my parent’s yard that would always have baby equestris throughout the summer. I think the thorns kept them safe from most predators and overactive kids!

    1. Wow! That’s really cool. I never thought I’d say it, but poor little A. sagrei. It reminds me of avian brood parasites, where the parasitic hatchling outgrows the true nestling and eventually shoves it out of the nest. The A. equestris and A. sagrei start out more less the same size, and then the equestris start getting big. Really big. And then they start eating the sagrei. Ouch!

  7. You are right, they start their lives as predator and prey and they end up that way as adults. I am of the opinion that A. sagrei have been unjustly maligned. They form a significant food source for many of our native birds and their hatchlings, which also coincide with the summer boom in the Anolis population. The most invasive and destructive exotic began somewhere in northeast Africa a couple of hundred thousand years ago and has spread to every continent on the planet! :)

  8. Yes, there is a very small population of Anolis chlorocyanus still around and I believe I found a place where a few Anolis coelestinus also exist. So in actuality there may be nine species established. There are definitely at least two distinct populations of distichus also, I believe one group came over from the Bahamas and became established in Coconut Grove (it was common when I was a kid) and the second is definitely larger and almost surely from Hispaniola. This latter group may have hybridized with the former. It’s very difficult to sort them out now since the two groups overlapped in the 1980s. Previously the dewlaps were distinctly different, one was pale yellow (Bahamian) and the other had some orange near the center (Dominican). Additionally the Hispaniolan or Dominican/Haitian had more greens throughout the body while the Bahamian had a more ashen appearance with grays and whites, although that is not a clear indicator as they can change their coloration.

  9. BTW- all the species (except sagrei and distichus)were adversely impacted by the 2010 freeze. I have only seen one garmani since 2010.

  10. I know of two populations of cybotes in Dade County. They fight hard to keep their foothold. They compete directly with sagrei. However, the cybotes seem to do best in slightly shaded environments as in “semi-wild” hardwood groves near suburban areas while sagrei loves to be near human habitations and enjoys either full sun or partial shade. I believe that sagrei has been disbursed throughout Florida by people (either intentionally or accidentally). Notice that the largest populations coincide with disturbed habitats in suburbs and cities near major thoroughfares.

  11. Excellent information on my favorite lizard! I’m an Anole Hobbyist and have kept Knight Anoles in terraria since I was 15 (circa 1985)! I love reading anything and everything about their natural history, including the scientific literature (I had two career ambitions in mind growing up, biologist or cop, after a stint in the military, law enforcement seemed the logical choice but I never gave up my love of herpetology and nature). I stumbled across this site recently and this is my first post. I thank the creators and contributors for allowing lay folks to participate!

    I currently maintain 4 Knight Anoles, 1 male and 2 females together and a juvenile female separately. I also have a juvenile pair of False Chameleons (A. barbatus), affectionately named Rango and Beans, that my very understanding wife just gave me for Christmas this year! Rounding out my herp charges are Indy the juvenile Leopard Tortoise and August the juvenile Sulcata. I hope to learn tons from this fascinating site!

  12. Here is a photo of my juvenile female Knight Anole. She hatched the day after Father’s Day last year and was my only success in ’11 (this photo was taken when she was 5 months old). I was previously successful incubating and hatching 5 Knights in ’09 but nothing in 2010 or this year. I hope to have better results in 2013.

    1. Hi Chuck, that’s a nice looking equestris. Have you had any more hatchlings so far this year? I began to see wild hatchlings 10 or 12 days ago.

  13. I was born in Miami in the mid 50’s and raised near Homestead. I left for military service in 1976 and had never seen Anolis Equestris until a recent vacation to the Keys this month (July 2013). Stopping by my Aunt and Uncles home in, what used to be called Perrine, they showed me one in their Carambola tree. I really enjoyed the information in this article. I’ve certainly seen my share of introduced species growing up in South Florida and considered my self a amateur herpetologist in my early days. Can you tell me how long Equestris has been around in South Florida? Check out the picture I took at my Aunt and Uncles home in late July 2013. Thank you. Jim.

  14. That’s a great photograph Jim. The following have been my own observations and conjectures. Anolis equestris was first introduced onto the University of Miami campus in the early 1950s. I’m not sure of the size of the original release group. At first they spread slowly, the younger animals being pushed out by the adults which are cannibalistic. By the 1970s they had colonized all of the Coral Gables area north of Dixie Highway and had established small colonies south of Dixie in the Coconut Grove area, east of Douglas Road in Coral Gate and Little Havana, and west to the Palmetto Expressway. I’m not sure why (perhaps the landscaping business or mild winters) but in the 1980s the population exploded. They began to pop up in west Kendall, north into Doral and south into the eastern parts of Homestead. By the 1990s they were all over south Florida, from Miami Beach to Naples and Key Largo to West Palm Beach. They prefer disturbed habitat where humans have planted fruiting trees and smaller Anolis species and large insects are abundant. There have been a few years in which large winter driven die offs have occurred, but they now seem to pop back quickly. Without adults present greater numbers of offspring survive. Some isolated populations have developed interesting color patterns with varying amounts of blue or yellow present.

    1. Thank you for your very detailed and timely answer to my question Armando! You sound like a real native of South Florida and it takes me back to my childhood to so many of the spots you mentioned. I’ve been a Gainesville, Florida resident since 1983 and really miss so much of the flora and fauna of my home county. Thank you again.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Optionally add an image (JPEG only)