On a fleeting one-night stopover in Miami last week, Anthony Geneva had the chance to pop in and say hello at Fairchild Tropical Botanical Gardens and take a morning stroll to view some of the resident anoles (see others posts about Fairchild anoles here: 1,2,3,4). While waiting to be joined by fellow local anolologist and distichus aficionado Winter Beckles (University of Miami), Anthony and I noticed some commotion by the edge of a nearby pond. Upon closer inspection, we realized that a tricolored heron (Egretta tricolor) appeared to be juggling a large anole in it’s mouth! In my morning rush, I had managed to forget not just my anole-catching noose pole, but alas, also my camera. Fortunately, Anthony was on hand to fill the David Bailey role.
After re-positioning the lizard a few times, the heron appeared to do something peculiar – it repeatedly dunked the lizard in and out of the water. This happened perhaps 5-6 times. Was this an attempt to expedite a fatality prior to consumption, or perhaps a neat trick to help lubricate such a large prey item?
In all, the process of ingestion took less than 10 seconds, following a couple of minutes of dunking and repositioning.
This observation follows a recent hot post reporting the predation of anoles by reintroduced whooping cranes (Grus americana) in Louisiana, which itself was preceded by various observations of avian-fuelled anolivory in South Florida (1, 2, 3, 4). Even more recently, while showing Thom Sanger and Bonnie Kircher around Fairchild Gardens a few weeks back, we observed a Cooper’s hawk (Accipiter cooperii), a widely-regarded bird specialist, snatch an American green anole (A. carolinensis) from the frond of a towering Royal Palm (Roystonea regia) – an event Rob Heathcote and I had observed the previous year with an adult male A. cristatellus in nearby Matheson Hammock. Unfortunately none of us were privileged with Anthony’s camera reflexes to capture any of those events.
So, why’s this interesting? (Excluding the obvious natural history enlightenment of revealing, at least personally, a previously unclear predator-prey interaction). Well, tricolored herons are a widespread breeding resident throughout much of the US Gulf states and as far south through the Caribbean to central Brazil and Peru. Therefore, the consumption of crested anoles (A. cristatellus) isn’t necessarily a novel interspecific interaction – it’s possible that this occurs in the native range of A. cristatellus, Puerto Rico, where both exist. However, although tricolored herons are natural residents of South Florida, it would be a tough sell to argue that crested anoles would be naturally on the menu. Crested anoles were first introduced to South Miami in the 1970s – the original site of introduction being a mere stone’s throw from this observation (for a review of the subsequent dispersal patterns of A. cristatellus in Miami see Kolbe et al. 2016; pdf here). So although crested anoles are being exposed to many novel biotic interactions in Miami, it seems they can’t escape some.
Have any Puerto Rico anolophiles observed this interaction before?