Curly Tail Lizards Eating Brown Anoles: Coming Soon To A Theater Near You (If You Live In Florida)

BK. Photo by John Rahn

Previous posts (1, 2, 3) have discussed the effect of Curly-tailed lizards (Leiocephalus carinatus) on brown anoles in the Bahamas and elsewhere. To summarize briefly, the effect is this: curly-tails eat brown anoles. Lots of them. The survivors move up into bushes to get away.

Such slaughter may seem of academic interest when it occurs in far-flung Caribbean ports, but soon–already!–Florida denizens can see the carnage up close and personal. The reason: curly-tails have been introduced to the east coast of Florida and seem to be spreading fairly rapidly.

This is all preamble to a series of photographs that AA reader John Rahn has sent in. John lives in Hobe Sound, Florida  (on the coast, north of Miami and West Palm Beach) and enjoys watching and photographing lizards on his back patio. He commented that “I love watching their antics. They are actually quite interesting and are great subjects to practice shooting (photographing).There’s another on my patio (editor’s note: “another” refers to  the A. distichus  he mentioned, along with a photo, in a comment), a girl with great markings and a red head, and this big boy.”

The Big Kahuna

But these were not his favorites. That honor was reserved for one he nicknamed The Big Kahuna. “He RULED his end of the patio. He’d chase away anyone that did not belong in his space – except for the curlytail.” He was a big boy. Really enjoyed watching him. He got very used to me being in his space.”

Now, about those curly tails. There was one who “would come through the patio, when on her daily route, about the same time every  morning. She (I think it was a girl) would occasionally stop and hang out with me for a while….My sister had a family(?) of them living on her back porch. They knew, when they heard the sliding glass door, that it wad feeding time. There was one who liked to be fed by hand.”

The ruling monarch of the patio

Naturally, I asked if John had a photo of a curly and a brown anole together. No dice. “When the curly would appear on the patio, even the Big Kahuna was GONE!”

Having studied the interaction between curly tails and brown anoles, I know the peril the little fellows experience. Not surprisingly, as any kindred spirit would, John became attached to BK. “After a few months of hanging out with the Big Kahuna, I started feeling protective of him. I’d chase off competing males, etc. One day a BIG, black bird landed on the fence (a grackle, maybe) and was REALLY eyeballing him, as he sat on the patio floor. I chased the bird away, which took some doing as he was truly wanted that lizard. Kahuna was lucky, that day.”

And who amongst us wouldn’t have done the same thing? I, for one, remember the time I plucked a poor baby brown anole out of a spider web, even though it was in the middle of a population dynamics study. But that’s another story.

I’ll end with this beautiful photo from John’s backyard.

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.

28 thoughts on “Curly Tail Lizards Eating Brown Anoles: Coming Soon To A Theater Near You (If You Live In Florida)

    1. Well Cuban brown anoles are bad anyway due to there habits on eating the native green anoles so curly tailed lizards are helping

  1. I believe the Knight and Basilisk lizards may be keeping the Curley Tailed out of my immediate shrubbery, but they are increasing observed both north and south of me. For example this robust adult was photographed in the landscape in front of the Whole Foods market in Plantation, FL and to the south Curly Tails can be found in the garden shop of Home Depot at the corner of University Ave and Stirling Rd. in Davie, FL.
    More photos:

    1. There’s a curly tail hanging out in my backyard in Sarasota. First saw him maybe a month ago. Now I know why there’s been so few anoles in the back yard. I have quite a few living in and around my lanai in the front yard, and I also enjoy watching them. I hope the curly tail doesn’t come around to the front!

  2. I’m afraid these reports are only too true. I have always kept a comfy “habitat” on my patio because I enjoyed numerous species of lizards who adopted their territories. About a year ago one fellow took up residence in the pipe by my garage and another in the back (opened an inconspicuous hole in the screen enclosure for himself to come and go!). As we S. Fl. residents who enjoy these critters will tell you, they are not afraid of us. It came to pass that I named the two! The one on back patio stays with me – I’ve thought he would eat from my hand, but too squeamish to try it. He did shockingly capture a couple of peanuts I left for my bluebirds! I watched him eat it. But I also began worrying where on earth my smaller lizards were disappearing to? I have huge pots of plants and put ‘caves & castles’ in them for these families – there were three young survivors last week and now none. That is why I came on here. My suspicions are confirmed. Yikes! (Bad enough I recently lost a bunny we saved from 3 weeks old to release….after a year, hawk sat nicely on my screen enclosure tearing him up! Would it have been better to keep him caged? I think no. He stayed by my house only appearing at dawn & dusk. One day I saw him frolicking in next door’s yard with ‘my’ survivor squirrel and some birds…and I thought “Oh no; that will be his undoing”. I should have realized and instilled some fear back into him:((

  3. We ate snowbirds and have seen 2 similar lizards this year. We wondered if the small anols would survive. Palm Bay Florida

  4. Living in the Jupiter area of south florida for many many years, I lament the disappearance of my beloved brown anoles. About 4 years ago I saw the curly tail for the first time ever. I was quite startled and found it repungnent for some reason. Since then the curly tails have multiplied in an amazing way, and I haven’t seen a brown anole for a couple of years. I find it sad. It’s always the bigger that survive. Pretty soon the world wont have any of the native species surviving. Some place in the world is some animal that will destroy it, and its only a matter of time until that animal arrives. How about the Pythons in the everglades.? Also, we used to have small, varied colored, songbirds all over. Then came the invasion of the grackles Now all we see are big blackbirds with their awful noises. What does this say about survival of the ‘fittest’ . How do you define fittest?

      1. I suppose so, and that is one way to look at ‘fittest’. Does just plain bigger and stronger fit in anywhere. Boxing matches try to have contestants evenly matched in size/weight etc. So size has some consequences. Don’t you think?

      1. The green anoles (A. Carolinensis) were plentiful when I was a student at U of M starting in 1965. The brown ones (A. Sagrei) supposedly came from the Bahamas and replaced the greens.

  5. It is my understanding that the curly tailed lizard was introduced to Florida int he 1940’s to control sugar cane pests.

  6. Should I remove the curly tail from my yard – perhaps put him in a tank, or sell him on e-bay? LOL. Don’t think I’d be able to catch him! I miss the anoles!

    1. I miss my pretty little anoles too. I have a couple (mated couple) living in my back yard, they sun by the pool I saw one swimming, kinda skims on top of water. You could NEVER catch one of these things. I wish I could to get rid of them. They are almost like a miniature dog and I don’t like them. I live on outskirts of West Palm Beach, and the anoles have been gone for a couple of years already. So sad. The bigger and meaner alway decimate the cuter smaller and nicer.

  7. Brown anoles replaced the much prettier and gentler green anoles, Curley tails are replacing the brown ones, and now since I moved to Florida in 1990 I have seen Cuban night anoles, baskelisk lizards, and iguanas make an appearance and start to become more and more common all because of the most invasive species of all, us humans.

  8. I live in North Miami Beach , about a year ago I have noticed an increasing number of northern curly tail lizard in my yard and neighborhood they are very active at noontime and sunny days, they are about three to ten inches body length I wonder if they are of any health hazard to humans, are they poisonous?, otherwise I found them very friendly reptiles, by the way I have many more type of lizards in my yard.

    1. If you pick one up, it can bite hard (but w/o venom)–that’s the only health hazard. Otherwise, they’re entertaining and keep the insects and spiders down.

  9. I discovered one under the dogs’ water bowl today. It’s the first time I’ve ever seen one on person. I live in Jacksonville, FL.

  10. I didn’t realize there was a difference. It’s interesting the dynamic between these two types. Now it makes sense what I’ve seen through my patio window 😉

  11. I saw my first curly tail on Ft Myers Beach where I live in April. I’ve been noticing fewer anoles around my property. I feel sad that they are disappearing.

  12. I’ve lived in Indialantic FL since 1978. In the last week I’ve seen my first curly tail lizard around my house. It is much more aware than the smaller brown lizards and runs into the bushes if I come within ten feet or so.

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