Anole March Madness: Sweet 16 Round Complete!

Anole MM16

Our (fictional) tournament of anoles is well underway as we complete the Sweet 16 round! The competition was tough and a few favorites fell from glory (sorry!). We’ve been repeatedly asked how the competitions are being decided. We are not rolling dice or using random outcome generators. For each match, we (K. Winchell, M. Muñoz, and P. Muralidhar) are reading up on the biology of the species involved and we debate what would happen if they were to meet each other and try to highlight some facts about each. In cases where we might be biased we step aside and let the others decide. If it were up to me of course, Anolis cristatellus would be in the final! (Really, they’re scrappy and mean little guys!)

And now the results!

Day 1 of the Sweet 16: The round kicked off when two species from Panama & Costa Rica faced off: the crown giant Anolis insignis versus the remaining aquatic anole, Anolis aquaticus. The match was followed by the Anole Annals darlingAnolis proboscis, versus the sand-dwelling Anolis onca.

Winner match 1 (Anolis insignis) versus winner match 2 (Anolis aquaticus): 
The decorated anole, Anolis insignis, has returned to Panama from his brief journey to Mexico. He rests by a streamside as he enters his familiar forest. On a thin branch above the stream, a bright orange flash catches his eye then disappears. The cryptically colored Anolis aquaticus, unaware that he has a visitor, dewlaps a second time. His giant orange-yellow dewlap is now fully extended and it is quite impressive. But the tiny anole is not aware of the danger he is in. Anolis insignis is an entire 10 cm larger (!) and thinks that this anole, too, looks like a good snack. Anolis insignis begins to climb up the nearest tree trunk. An excellent climber, he quickly navigates his way from above over to the unsuspecting A. aquaticus. Anolis insignis descends, slowly, onto the trunk of the tree, then the branch connected to that long twig over the water. Anolis aquaticus, still completely unaware, continues to dewlap hoping to attract some attention from a nearby female. Anolis insignis stealthily moves onto the twig. The twig is not as strong as he thought it would be and begins to flex. Anolis aquaticus does not perceive the bend of the twig, he is too enamored with his hopeful mate to notice. Anolis insignis, realizing how precarious the perch is, decides he has only one chance at this meal. He leaps at A. aquaticus and catches him by the hindlimb as they both tumble off of the branch into the stream below. As they hit the water, A. aquaticus manages to wriggle free. Anolis aquaticus rapidly climbs onto the closest rock. Anolis inignis attempts to follow him, but soggy and ill-suited for a streamside life, he is unable to get a grip on the slippery boulder. The current washes the giant bully downstream, leaving Anolis aquaticus to return to his amorous display. ***Anolis aquaticus wins***

Winner match 5 (Anolis proboscis) versus winner match 6 (Anolis onca)
Energized by his victory over Anolis macrolepis, Anolis onca decides to test his luck by venturing out of his sandy home. The ground dwelling anole is curious about the forest and the other types of anoles that live there. He ambles along the forest floor, occasionally hopping onto a rock to survey his surroundings. Deep in the jungle now, A. onca hears a rustling and looks up to see the strangest lizard he has ever seen. Anolis proboscis, with his long facial projection, is basking in a fleck of sunlight streaming through the canopy. Anolis onca attempts to get a closer look at the strange forest anole. He approaches the base of the tree and begins to climb, but his feet, lacking lamellae, do not cling well to the surface. He is able to interlock his claws into the bark just enough to climb. Afterall, he regularly perches on twigs and bushes on the beach, how different could a forest tree be? He makes it up to the twig on which A. proboscis sits. The twig is thin and smooth, not like those beach twigs at all. Anolis proboscis sees the newcomer, and still on edge after his previous encounter, begins to dewlap. Curious still, A. onca advances onto the twig. It is much more slippery than he thought it would be, and when he looks down he realizes what great height he climbed to so that he could get a look at the peculiar Pinocchio anole. Anolis proboscis rapidly advances toward A. onca. Anolis onca startles and attempts to turn around to run. His feet slip rapidly on the twig. Without lamellae he simply can’t hang on! He slides off of the twig high in the canopy and attempts to grasp onto the leaves he hits on the way down, but alas, the van der Waals force is not with him. Anolis proboscis, relieved that the encounter did not come to blows so soon after his previous battle, resumes basking high up in the treetop. ***Anolis proboscis wins***


Day 2 of the Sweet 16: The day started off with the smaller bodied (but not to be underestimated) Central American anoles: Anolis limifrons versus Anolis cupreus, and ended with the giant Anolis frenatus meeting the tiny Anolis ortonii.

Winner match 3 (Anolis limifrons) versus winner match 4 (Anolis cupreus)
Deep in the Costa Rican jungle, a male Anolis limifrons rests on a tree root. He has recently wooed and pair bonded with a female and, together, they survey their little kingdom. It is full of insects, and has plenty of sun and shade. This slice of paradise is noticed by a large male Anolis cupreus, who has approached the basking pair. The female A. limifrons dashes off to the underbrush while the male begins to display at the intruder. Slowly and deliberately, A. cupreus unfurls his enormous pink and orange dewlap. Anolis limifrons is intimidated and retreats a few steps, but he does not run away. His territory has a bonded female and plenty of food; it’s a one-stop inclusive fitness shop. He’s got more to lose, so he extends his own white and orange dewlap. He starts vigorously headbobbing at the intruder, in an attempt to ward the intruder off without a fight. Anolis cupreus is bigger than A. limifrons, but only slightly so. He steps towards the best tree root in the territory and A. limifrons charges at him. Anolis cupreus turns and bites at A. limifrons’ flank, but catches his tail instead. It doesn’t immediately sever, so A. cupreus remains latched on. Anolis limifrons, meanwhile, starts biting at A. cupreus’ flank and neck. It is death by a thousand cuts, as A. limifrons bites at A. cupreus, while A. cupreus wriggles out of each nip. All of a sudden, the female A. limifrons charges across the battle scene to a nearby trunk. The female momentarily distracts A. cupreus, just long enough for A. limifrons to deliver a nasty bite to his opponent’s neck. Anolis cupreus twists out the bite, but loses a bit of skin in the process. He’s had enough and trudges off to find his fortunes elsewhere. Pluckiness and determination have paid off for A. limifrons as he hobbles towards the female, short half a tail and the victor in this encounter. ***Anolis limifrons wins***

Winner match 7 (Anolis frenatus) versus winner match 8 (Anolis ortonii)
Anolis ortonii, Orton’s anole, was gifted with a behavioral preference to perch close to the forest floor. This fine and adaptive instinct, developed through hundreds and hundreds of years of natural selection, made the proud lineage of A. ortonii a successful inhabitant of the South American continent for generations. Occasionally, some juvenile Orton’s anole would venture to climb a little higher than usual; occasionally, an adult male would find and claim a slight raised perch; but overall, A. ortonii kept to their preferred niche – low, close to the ground, easily escapable. Today, that all changed. Today, a young A. ortonii adult male defies every instinctive preference bred into him by generations of struggle and decides to reach for the canopy in the rainforest of Colombia. Nothing can stop this young ambitious male from rising in the world: not the cries of his conspecific friends as he leaves them behind on their low perches, not the appeal of the tasty insects that he passes on his slow climb up the tree, not even the challenge of a scarlet dewlap from a former A. ortonii foe. He continues to climb up the trunk, his only goal to see and display to the world from a higher vantage point. Our male finally reaches the canopy. He looks around, marvelling in the beautiful kaleidoscope of sunlight and leaves. Far below, he can see the life he left behind, but feels no regrets; he is in his spiritual home. Unfortunately, this is not a fairy tale and nature has no room for heroes. Our brave A. ortonii male failed to notice a crown-giant Anolis frenatus lurking in the dark green shadows. Anolis frenatus is monstrously sized, and this one is many times larger than the A. ortonii male. Anolis frenatus creeps out of the shadows softly, obeying her predatory instincts, as A. ortonii turns around to bask in the softly dappled sunlight. The end comes quickly; one snap of the massive jaws and A. ortonii is grievously wounded. He continues to struggle, courageously twisting around and inflicting many painful bites on the snout of A. frenatus, who is temporarily stymied by this painful meal. Another snap to the head of A. ortonii though, and it is all over. Anolis frenatus consumes her meal and returns to the shadows; natural selection had claimed yet another victim. ***Anolis frenatus wins***


Day 3 of the Sweet 16: The matches began with the highly anticipated battle between the scrappy favorite, Anolis cristatellus, and the beloved giant Knight Anole, Anolis equestris. Following that we saw evenly matched Lesser Antillean anoles Anolis lividus and Anolis marmoratus do battle.

Winner match 9 (Anolis cristatellus) versus winner match 10 (Anolis equestris)
Anolis cristatellus explores his newly invaded home of Miami warily, scanning for new territories and perches. He soon finds a home in a lush botanical garden, a wonderfully branching tree that will undoubtedly ensure him quite a lot of mating success. He excitedly climbs the tree and takes up a position on the trunk. But this is a rather hungry anole, and he notices insects settling slightly higher above him on the trunk. As he runs up and happily consumes them, he notices even more, just a little higher! Following this trail of insect bread crumbs, our delighted A. cristatellus cheerfully but unconsciously eats his way to the higher branches of the tree. As he reaches the top branches, he pauses, thinking that he saw a suspicious green movement to his left, but he disregards the motion. Unfortunately for him, Anolis equestris had colonized this tree and does not take kindly to strangers trying to enter his territory. Anolis equestris suddenly appears in front of the startled A. cristatellus and snaps; A. cristatellus panics and rapidly dodges, but a second bite from A. equestris catches his tail. Anolis cristatellus’ tail comes off easily, but he loses his balance and falls from the canopy to the ground, stunned. Anolis equestris, extremely grumpy at this interaction, withdraws into the canopy and thinks dark thoughts about the impertinence of other ecomorphs.  ***Anolis equestris wins***

Winner match 13 (Anolis lividus) versus winner match 14 (Anolis marmoratus)
A lonely Anolis lividus washes up on the shores of Grande Terre, Guadeloupe following a hurricane. Accustomed to the scrub of northern Montserrat, he finds himself right at home on Grande Terre and decides to find himself a new territory. He spots a nice Acacia tree and starts to climb up its trunk. Anolis marmoratus inornatus, who had been perched on the other side of the trunk, suddenly becomes aware of this unexpected intruder. They look at each other and begin to size each other up. Anolis lividus has a green body, a rusty reddish head, blue tail, and a yellow eye ring. Anolis marmoratus inornatus looks almost the same. Indeed, they are very closely related species. They turn to their sides and size each other up. Nuchal crests go up and dewlaps – yellow-orange for both – come out. They display at each other, matching each other for dewlaps, head bobs, and pushups. Size matched and almost identical in aspect, this fight is shaping up to be a perfect coin toss. The incumbent decides the odds are ever in his favor and starts to charge towards A. lividus. Before he could bite the intruder, however, A. lividus wheels around the tree trunk and bites his opponent from behind, catching a leg in his jaws. Anolis marmoratus reels around and bites A. lividus on the forelimb. They cling onto each other for minutes, each unwilling to back off, but unable to lance another attack. The standoff could have persisted almost indefinitely, except for a kestrel that had been observing this encounter from a nearby tree, waiting for her moment. With the two lizards locked so tightly into place and so distracted, she makes her move and swoops down, plucking the closest lizard, which happens to be A. lividus, from the trunk. In this evenly matched encounter, the fortunes favor A. marmoratus. ***Anolis marmoratus wins***


Day 4 of the Sweet 16: We wrapped up the round beginning with another favorite falling from glory as Anolis distichus battled Anolis porcus and ending with another size-mismatched battle among the Lesser Antillean anoles Anolis pogus versus Anolis bimaculatus.

Winner match 11 (Anolis distichus) versus winner match 12 (Anolis porcus)
It is drizzling in the rain forest of La Sierra Maestra mountain range and Anolis porcus slowly closes her eyes as a raindrop wends across her eyelid. As the rain tapers to a drizzle, sunlight begins to peek through the clouds and dapple through the canopy. The light catches a visitor to these Cuban ranges, Anolis distichus. The petite trunk anole blends well with the vegetation and decides he’s found a perfect new home. He darts for a small canopy gap where he happily soaks up some warm sunlight. Not two feet away Anolis porcus opens her eyes to see Anolis distichus basking on the branch and marvels at the sight before her. “Has a tasty morsel just offered himself up so easily?” As if in answer, A. distichus begins displaying vigorously to inform all other lizards nearby that he is the new landlord of the grove. A slight breeze tickles the leaves and branches, which begin to sway. Is it the vegetation that sways and rocks so hypnotically? Anolis porcus is moving slowly towards A. distichus, rocking back and forth as she gets closer and closer. But our plucky little A. distichus is blissfully unaware that his death approaches one slow step at a time and happily continues displaying. When it is almost too late to move, A. distichus realizes that the swaying branch is none other than a huge chipojo. He panics and tries to flee, but the hungry A. porcus snaps him up into her massive maw, and retreats to the shadows to victoriously devour her meal. ***Anolis porcus wins***


Winner match 15 (Anolis pogus) versus winner match 16 (Anolis bimaculatus)
It’s another balmy day in paradise on the island of Nevis. Anolis bimaculatus, fresh off its victory against A. terrealtae basks in the morning sun. Birds sing their morning chorus, flies buzz around lazily, and insects find their way to A. bimaculatus’ grateful maw. This panther finds himself, once again, king of the jungle. Anolis pogus, fresh off his victory on St. Vincent, seeks to stake new ground on the isle of Nevis. He jumps off his driftwood raft and makes for the nearest tree, where the panther anole  is perched. At first, A. bimaculatus thinks this tan colored intruder is just another Anolis schwartzi, like so many on the island. But this intruder is a different (though closely related) beast. Anolis pogus dashes up the tree and rapidly flashes his cream-yellow dewlap. Anolis bimaculatus is offended by the gumption of this puny lizard and immediately juts out his orange dewlap in response. He raises his nuchal crest and makes an impressive display of size and power. Even the bold A. pogus realizes he’s met a fierce competitor. Nonetheless, A. pogus doesn’t back down. He flashes his dewlap again and begins to vigorously head bob. Anolis bimaculatus is outraged, and thinks “You’re nothing but an upjumped schwartzi-wannabe. I eat you guys for breakfast!”, and he wasn’t exagerrating. Certainly, at less than half the body size of A. bimaculatus, this A. pogus seems to have tried to bite off more than he could chew. But luck is on the side of A. pogus, as A. bimaculatus’ foot gets caught in a small crevice caused by loose bark. Anolis pogus seizes the opportunity to land a few bites along A. bimaculatus’ flank. Anolis bimaculatus wedges his way loose, though losing half a toe in the process, and makes quick work of A. bogus. Anolis bimaculatus delivers a powerful blow to A. pogus’ flank. Anolis pogus bites A. bimaculatus’ face, causing the latter to release him. Anolis pogus, clearly trying to punch above his weight, is lucky to escape with his life, as he runs down the tree and limps away. Anolis bimaculatus, unfazed and unsurprised, quietly climbs back to his favorite perch and dewlaps in victory. ***Anolis bimaculatus wins***


That’s all for this round! Disagree with the results? Bracket busted? Have a picture for one of the no-photo lizards or an insider tip for one of the lesser-known anoles that are advancing? Let us know!

If you are keeping track: these are the upcoming Elite 8 matches: A. aquaticus v. A. limifrons, A. proboscis v.  A. frenatus, A. equestris v. A. porcus, and A. marmoratus v. A. bimaculatus.

Don’t want to wait for the next post to know who advances? Follow along live on Twitter every night at 8pm, with matches live tweeted by @AnoleMM2016, and cheer on your favorites with #AnoleMM2016

About Kristin Winchell

I'm a Ph.D. candidate at UMass Boston in the Revell lab. I am interested in how animals respond to urbanization from an ecological and evolutionary perspective. My dissertation research has focused on adaptive shifts in the Puerto Rican crested anole, Anolis cristatellus, in response to urbanization. Website:

2 thoughts on “Anole March Madness: Sweet 16 Round Complete!

  1. I’m loving this series! Learning about new species, and enjoying the stories of the species I know well.

    A question, though – you have reference to pair bonding in the limifrons-cupreus match. I wasn’t aware of evidence of pair bonding in anoles – can you tell me where that info comes from? This is intriguing to a behavioral biologist like me!

    1. Hi Michele,
      I based this story off of a cool paper by Alexis Harrison, which was covered on the AA a few years ago: There’s a link to Alexis’ paper in that post, and also a discussion of an earlier paper by Talbot (1979) in which pair bonding in limifrons was first suggested. I thought it would be a neat detail to include in the “battle”.


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