Paragliding Anoles?

Anolis chlorocyanus after gliding back to the tower. Photo by Brian D. Farrell

Anolis chlorocyanus after gliding back to the tower. Photo by Brian D. Farrell

Every summer, a group of students heads down to the Dominican Republic to take the Harvard summer course on biodiversity of the country. As a teaching assistant, I often watch unsuccessful attempts of students trying to catch the abundant fast-moving lizards. Sometimes I also participate, usually resulting in the same outcome. Last week, we were climbing an observation tower in Punta Cana to spot Ridgway’s hawks (Buteo ridgwayi) when Ryan Friedman, a student taking the course, noticed a Hispaniolan green anole (Anolis chlorocyanus) perched on the side of the tower. We thought we would finally outsmart an anole and catch it with our hands. However, the lizard apparently preferred to jump to certain death rather than being handled by us. We watched it falling down about 10 meters, but, instead of going straight down and hitting the ground, it followed a curved trajectory that safely brought it back to the tower (and enabled Brian Farrell, the course instructor, to take a picture after the fact).
This observation seemed remarkable enough for Jonathan Losos to allow this entomologist to report it here, and also made me very curious. Are some anoles able to direct their fall, or maybe to glide with the wind while they go down? Hopefully someone will have the chance to do a controlled trial and figure it out!

Editor’s Note: Such behavior has been noted for Anolis pentaprion.

About Bruno de Medeiros

I am a graduate student at the OEB Department in Harvard University, working on coevolution of palms and the beetles that visit their flowers.

4 thoughts on “Paragliding Anoles?

  1. There was an undergraduate student at UC Berkeley, Vicky Zhuang, who presented a poster on gliding in anoles at JMIH several years ago. She’s now a graduate student at UC Riverside.

    1. That’s correct. My student Vicky studied anoles gliding in a wind tunnel when she was an undergrad at UC Berkeley. Also note that James Oliver studied this in 1951 (Am. Nat. 85:171-176), and found that A. carolinensis veered away from the vertical when dropped from 30 feet. This highlighted their ability to parachute.

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