Winter activity by reptiles has always intrigued me. Growing up in NY, I was confronted with long reptile-free stretches. However, on occasion, a little hope for the coming spring could be found. For example, at least once, a painted turtle passed slowly under the ice, which was obviously reason for major excitement…and surely portended an imminent spring like an auspiciously overcast February 2nd. More typically, during those times of scarcity I satisfied my herpetological curiosity by dip-netting tadpoles and red-spotted newts through holes punched in the iced-over pond behind my house.
This same impatience motivated me to stop at the side of the road on a warm (63F), sunny, winter (Jan 18) afternoon in southeastern North Carolina. The previous night, I had heard a small, lackadaisical spring peeper chorus down near Myrtle Beach, and during my afternoon drive back to Raleigh, a few turtles were basking in roadside swamps. So, I pulled off the road near the Lumber River in Robeson County and took a short stroll.
A big cypress at the edge of the river was lit by a patch of late-day sun and instantly caught my attention. Sure enough, about 1 minute after getting out of my car, an adult male green anole was found, plenty active and warm to the touch, resting at the base of said cypress. These little anoles are tough! Surely this must be an anomaly. Nope, 5 minutes later, I found another adult male by the edge of the forest! I wanted to look more, but the sun was getting low and the temperature dropped below 60. I got in my car and drove back to Raleigh encouraged by this observation – spring is on the way!
Does anyone know what these anoles are doing during these winter days? From talking to folks with longer histories in NC, winter activity is not that uncommon in green anoles up here at the northern limit of their range. For example, I saw my last one up here in Raleigh in late November. And last year they were active into December!
What’s the benefit of winter activity?