Where Do Lizards Go When It’s Cold?

When I arrived at the University of Florida this summer, I was struck by the bustling sidewalks – bustling not with students, but with brown/festive/Cuban anoles. They were everywhere! But now that it’s cool out (not cold, lets say below 70 degrees to be generous), they are essentially gone. Where I could once count ten anoles sitting on a single bench, it would now take some effort to find this many in a reasonable amount of time.  Where did they go?

Carrig and his cold lizardsToday, while cleaning up piles of leaves from the yard, I was surprised to find a fairly large collection of A. sagrei under my leaf piles. One pile had as many as four under it (lizards that were not shoveled up inadvertently before realizing my cache) and every pile had at least a few. These individuals were almost certainly below their thermal optima as my son had no problem scooping up three at once and proudly displaying them for a photo op. Is it possible that the lizards found these piles warmer than those found elsewhere, attracted to the heat of the composting leaves? Maybe they were just there to stay out of yesterday’s rain and had not yet ventured out. I would be curious to hear if anyone else ever observed something like this?

About Thomas Sanger

Thom Sanger is an Assistant Professor at Loyola University in Chicago. His lab specializes on understanding the developmental bases of Anolis lizard diversity.

11 thoughts on “Where Do Lizards Go When It’s Cold?

  1. A short paper on winter aggregations and mortality in the green anole by Distler et. al can be found here: http://www.bio.davidson.edu/dorcas/research/Reprints/Distler%20et%20al.%201998%20-%20Winter%20mortality%20in%20the%20green%20anole%20-%20Brimleyana.pdf

    Additionally, Bishop and Echternacht (2004) looked that the thermal characteristics of overwintering shelters in the green anole here:

      1. “During a herpetofaunal survey on 15 March 1996, we discovered the remains of twelve adult green anoles within a Carolina bay located between the Great Pee Dee and Little Pee Dee Rivers in northeastern South Carolina … The anoles were found beneath the bark of a rotted bald cypress that was still upright within the bay. Eleven of the specimens appeared to have been mummified. One anole skeleton was also found along side the other anoles. indicating that at least one individual had died previously in the same location. All twelve specimens were on the southeast side of the tree.”

  2. I find that the green guys and gals are much more active than the brown crowd in these “cooler” temps (60s at night, 75 during the day) than before in the hotter months.
    I was also speculating the other day whether the fact that carolinensis is outcompeted by sagrei in terms of reproductive success might be partially offset by greater odds of survival of carolinensis during the cold months. Any data about this?

  3. In Anolis cybotes territory, when we walk through the forest’s leaf litter, we tend to flush a lot of juveniles and females that seem to spend more time there than adult males. As another trunk-ground anole, I would think they would choose such substrate for other activities other than laying eggs and feeding, like roosting, although it is more common to see them on twigs and vines at night. Anyhow, here in lowlands or wet forest (Hispaniola), they may not have that particular necessity since it does not get that cold, and as a “handy rule” implies, the farther you go up from the ground, the colder it gets. I wonder if you were able to tell their sexes of if juvies or not Thom.

    Regarding the ecomorph condition, I seldom observe other species like giants (crown/canopy) or trunk-crown on ground unless they are juvies, females, or adult males that fell off their perch due a combat defeat.

    Examples of this are mentioned in previous posts: http://www.anoleannals.org/2013/05/25/a-little-giants-dewlap-why-do-they-need-one/ and http://www.anoleannals.org/2013/10/23/mystery-anole-from-haiti/

    1. Hi Miguel,
      These were definitely young lizards hatched this year, one female and two males. I agree that its not uncommon to find juvenile lizards foraging (or whatever) in the leaf litter, but this weekend seemed different. Just a few weeks ago, when it was warmer out lizards of this size were in our wood pile or perching on our backyard plants. Yesterday the anoles were at the bottom of a leaf pile about two feet deep. Based on their lack of response when I turned the pile over, these lizards seemed like they weren’t planning on going anyplace soon. I was also struck by finding lizards under each previously raked pile, but not the leaves scattered on the ground.

  4. I, Paul, age 8, grade 2nd, found 4 green anoles when it was 70 degrees on a fence during the summer. I found one near lots of rocks and the other was found near a window sill. Also, They severely bite me when I pick them up.

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