Finding the “Rare” Anolis duellmani

Like many quests to find rare herps, this is a story of courage, persistence, and strength. Just kidding; it was a piece of cake.

Anolis duellmani was described by Fitch and Henderson (1973) based on four specimens from the southern slope of the Volcán San Martín Tuxtla, Veracruz, Mexico. Even though the phylogenetic position of A. duellmani is uncertain, no additional morphological variation had been described for the species. As part of a major effort led by Dr. Adrián Nieto-Montes de Oca and Dr. Steven Poe to untangle the systematics of Mesoamerican anoles, Israel Solano-Zavaleta, Levi N. Gray, and I went to Los Tuxtlas to search for the elusive species.


Anolis duellmani in life.

We arrived in San Andrés Tuxtla the afternoon of February 22, 2013. After a well deserved shrimp cocktail meal, we headed NE of town towards the San Martín Volcano. The way up is full of clearings, corn fields, and grazing land. After about 30 minutes of driving, we reached a relatively well preserved forest patch and began the hunt. Just about 10 minutes later, Israel victoriously came with an anole specimen showing the distinctive characteristics of Anolis duellmani: enlarged and keeled median dorsal scale rows, small size, and a purplish dewlap. We could have gone home, but we are dedicated and hard-working herpetologists. Just kidding again. We stayed because Israel needed samples from the rare arboreal alligator lizards Abronia chiszari and Abronia reidi for his Ph.D. project. We didn’t find any Abronia  (sucking at finding them is our trademark), but we found a bunch of A. duellmani specimens during the next days. During daytime, the lizards are active over the leaf litter or low in logs. During nighttime, we found them sleeping just above our heads or lower. The species is locally abundant and easy to catch, but not everything is rosy: we only found the specimens in densely forested areas with primary vegetation. Given the continuous expansion of grazing lands and logging in the region, this anole and other species from Los Tuxtlas might be at imminent risk. Additional comments on the morphological variation, natural history and systematics of this not so rare anole can be found in our paper published last month in the first issue of the open-access journal Mesoamerican Herpetology.

In the end, the easy quest gave us a good reward. Not only were we able to record data for a poorly known anole, but also find other stunning herps. Anotheca spinosa, Xenosaurus rackhami sanmartinensis, Pseudoeurycea werleri, Anolis lemurinus, Anolis petersii, and an angry and giant Spilotes pullatus are among the beautiful Tuxtlas’ jewels we were able to find.

An angry Spilotes pullatus considering an anole enthusiast meal.

An angry Spilotes pullatus considering an anole enthusiast meal.









About Carlos Joaquín Pavón-Vázquez

Carlos J. Pavón-Vázquez is a Mexican herpetologist interested mainly in the systematics, biogeography, and molecular ecology of the Mesoamerican herpetofauna. Anole lizards have proved to be an exciting model for developing those areas.

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