Proud of My “Browns”

Me in uniform – many years, kilograms and grey hair ago.

Me in uniform – many years, kilograms and grey hair ago.

For many years, most units in the South African Defense Force used a plain medium brown uniform, called nutria. Soldiers commonly referred to it as “browns.” A few years before my national service, the defense force started phasing it out, replacing it with the “Soldier 2000” camouflage design. When I was conscripted to serve in the South African Medical Services (SAMS) in 1993, SAMS was the only unit that completely still used the nutria uniforms, and although not as “modern-looking” as the other uniforms, we developed a sense of pride in our “browns.”

I believe the brown anole (Anolis sagrei) needs little introduction to Anole Annals readers. I am very fortunate to have been able to do my research on the invasive population of these lizards in southwestern Taiwan. I have been a naturalist at heart since a very young age, but these lizards were my introduction to the academic side of natural history, and because of my work on them I have made numerous friends and acquaintances. So, naturally they hold a special place in my heart and mind.

A female brown anole (Anolis sagrei) from my study area in Santzepu, Sheishan District, Chiayi County, southwestern Taiwan.

A female brown anole (Anolis sagrei) from my study area in Santzepu, Sheishan District, Chiayi County, southwestern Taiwan.

Unfortunately these feelings brought a sense of guilt within me. I know all too well that they are an invasive species, which has certain impacts on native species. And yet, it is hard not to marvel at them and their ability to overcome the numerous obstacles they face in this foreign habitat.

The other day, while reading the obituary of Henry S. Fitch (1909-2009) in the 2009 issue of Herpetological Review (40[4]: 393-400), the words of Raymond B. Huey suddenly made it all so clear to me. He described an instance in which he left a meeting at which Henry Fitch was a speaker, with a haunting lesson, “We should do science because we love the process, not because we need to love the results.” I believe that for us who work with invasive species, this is also a message. So now, when I see brown anoles, I no longer have to feel guilty when I do not wish they were rather tree lizards (Japalura spp.) or grass lizards (Takydromus spp.). I admire the “browns” and I find the process of learning about their natural history truly fascinating – I love it! I wonder how many other researchers working on invasive anoles share this sentiment?

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