Miami Anole Safari I

Jason Kolbe’s latest field site

Wonderful as the International Biogeography Society meeting was, there were more important fish to fry in Miami, so several of us played hooky to go looking for introduced anoles. First stop was Miami Beach, where we headed to the famed Fountainebleau Hotel, site of an introduction of A. trinitatis from St. Vincent (note to Wikipedia-adept readers; the entry  for the hotel is quite informative, but lacks information on the hotel’s pivotal role in enhancing Miami anole diversity). Last year, Joe Burgess reported that the colony was no more, but we wanted to check for ourselves.

Slipping into the pool area at the back of the hotel, we inconspicuously mingled with the beautiful crowd, gazing up the enormous palm trees and into the bushes, pretending to be looking for birds and lost croquet balls. The morning was semi-sunny, but very windy—not ideal anole weather, especially when looking for a species hailing from near the equator. Nonetheless, when the sun peeked out, we did find the Miami big three—carolinensis, distichus and sagrei—but no sign of trinitatis. After an hour, with the security team moving in, we decamped through the back and headed on.

Next stop: the lush and beautiful grounds of the Fairchild Tropical Botanical Garden, its floral magnificence seemingly designed to provide ideal saurian habitat. We first visited the new Wings of the Tropics building, a lovely, enclosed house full of brilliant eye candy in the form of morpho, postman, and other fabulous butterflies. We stopped in there because word on the street is that the building will soon be re-named Toepads of the Tropics because some uninvited guests have taken up residence in the well-vegetated exhibit, enjoying the sun and the abundant insect fare. Sure enough, we spotted both a brown anole and a female red-headed Agama agama.

Floridian red-headed agama. Photo from dust tracks on the web

“Agama”??? you say? That’s right, these lovely African lizards have taken root in a number of places in southern Miami, amongst them the Fairchild. And in a biomically-appropriate way, these East African lizards are most common in the Old World Xeric exhibit in the gardens, hanging out amongst the Malagasy euphorbs and pachypodia, probably imaging that they’ve just slipped across Mozambique Channel. To complete the illusion, they have taken pains to scare away all the anoles from their rocky redoubt, though we did notice one brave male brown anole in the shade of a rock. Agamas may have the same effect on anoles as do curly-tailed lizards, a suggestion made by James Stroud, who was our very capable tour guide to the lizards of Fairchild.

By then, the sun was out in full force and the anole abundance was extraordinary. Especially noticeable were the Puerto Rican cresteds, thickly blanketing the ground and vegetation in shaded areas, but we also saw many green, brown, and bark anoles. In one ecomorphologically-satisfying moment, we saw a green anole low down on a tree trunk, sitting below a brown anole. Before cameras could be deployed to record this ecological reversal, the brown anole chased the green back up the tree to where it belonged.

Late in the day, it was time to get back to the poster session, especially to see the great poster on ancient DNA in Caribbean anoles, but we couldn’t resist a quick detour (well, not so quick due to navigational malfunction, but I’m not naming names) to All-America Park at Cocoplum Terrace in South Miami, the redoubt of Jamaican crown-giant anoles, A. garmani, for the past four decades. We have seen them there many times in the past, but word had reached our ears that the cold snaps of the last several years had dealt the population a devastating blow. We got there late in the day and took a quick spin through the park. Many anoles were seen, but none of the Jamaican beauties. Nonetheless, it was all-in-all a splendid day of anolizing—Miami certainly has been transformed into a splendid anole wonderland.

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.

13 thoughts on “Miami Anole Safari I

  1. Looks like you guys had more success this time than on our ill-fated cristatellus expedition in Costa Rica. Did you see cybotes in any new places?

  2. As a long time south Florida resident, I very much enjoyed Jason’s article. No I haven’t spotted any A. trinitatis in my area, but south Florida is full of these pocket populations of exotic reptiles large and small. A grad student could easily make their field observations sitting in a lawn chair waiting for their subjects to come to them. My son first spotted the Fairchild Agamas and we both spent one Sunday photographing in ideal field conditions with food stands and bathrooms just a step away.

  3. My wife doesn’t know it…yet, but my dream vacation would be going to Miami to do some “anole watching”, specifically Knight Anoles!

  4. Pingback: Anole Annals
  5. Our south Miami (Cocoplum terrace) A garmanii population was affected as much by prior and post collection of them as was the 2009-2010 cold spell. Once the internet became the source of “they are at this location” then those who had a shopping list came and collected. I used to see them casing the neighborhood trees with pillow cases and bamboo poles. The web notification lists are used as much by those who want to catch and move exotics (chameleons are a classic example). There also seems to be no negative pressure on the street for such herping activities (EX; making colonies in your backyard). However- you mention African land snails, and the kids know not to touch/move them, that there are consequences (which if you ask range from fines to jail time).

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