What the heck gives with blue lizards? Collared lizards, geckos, lacertids, teids, anoles—there’s more blue lizards than you can shake a stick at. And they stand out like a sore thumb. How can they possibly survive? And in those species in which only the males are blue, do the lady lizards really have an azure fixation?
Male Anolis allisoni from Cuba are famous as the day-glo green lizard with a blue jumper. But their Honduran descendants are much less cerulean—indeed, here on Roatan, they barely have a hint of the cobalt (see below). What’s going on? It would seem that whatever has favored blueness in Cuba is not favoring it here. Do the ladies out here swoon not as much for indigo? Are the predators tougher? Is the environment different? Who knows. And has the population here reached a new, less blue, stable-state, or is it in the process of losing its turquoise entirely, returning to its verdant roots. At this point, we don’t have a good time estimate for how long allisoni has been here—if it’s a recent arrival, it would certainly be a reasonable hypothesis that the blue wash is on its way out entirely.
But while we’re on the topic of color craziness, here’s another question: how come green anoles can’t—or don’t—match their background? Color mavens may be offended at my non-analytic assertions, but I insist that green anoles often are conspicuous. On white tree trunks (much less brown or red ones), a green anole stands out a mile away. Sure, green’s great for camouflage when you’re in the vegetation, but if you could change colors, wouldn’t you do so when on non-green backgrounds. Octopi can do it, why not anoles? Or, at least, why don’t they stay on green surfaces when they don’t want to be detected. Although, truth be told, not all greens are the same, and the bright green of these species often stands out against darker green vegetation (check out the anole in the grass in yesterday’s post, reprinted to the left).
Now, some contrarians may claim that they’re actually trying to be conspicuous—Bob Trivers, for one, suggested that the beautiful green A. garmani intentionally perched in conspicuous sites in order to be seen. Maybe that’s so, but most of the time, anoles don’t seem like they’re trying to be seen, especially the females. And, yet, you can’t miss them.
Finally, of course, I have to acknowledge that it’s possible that I failed to spot one or two green anoles in green vegetation, especially high in trees. So, it may be that green is the color that camouflages them most effectively. Still, they could do better by changing color to match where they’re sitting, or by only sitting where they don’t stand out.