Western North Carolina Green Anoles

Anolis carolinensis basking mid-winter in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Note the icicle in the left foreground. Photo by Sandy Echternacht from The Reptiles of Tennessee (UT Press 2013), and used with permission of the photographer and publisher.

Anolis carolinensis basking mid-winter in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Note the icicle in the left foreground. Photo by Sandy Echternacht from The Reptiles of Tennessee (UT Press 2013), and used with permission of the photographer and publisher.

Having recently moved to North Carolina, I am naturally inclined to get out and look for anoles. The state encompasses portions of the northern extent of the green anole (Anolis carolinensis) along the eastern seaboard, and a number of researchers are interested in both the evolutionary history of green anoles (Tollis et al. 2012, Campbell-Staton et al. 2012, Tollis and Boissinot 2014; Manthey et al. 2016) as well as, in particular, their ability to adapt to highly season regions (Jaffe et al. 2016). For a subtropical lizard to survive in areas that regularly see snow and ice is potentially an important study in regional adaptation. Indeed, this dramatic photograph below illustrates that anoles and icicles can coexist in both space and time.

This comes from work done by Sandy Echternacht and David Bishop at the University of Tennessee Knoxville. These researchers have shown that the green anoles in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (yes, they occur there!) exist mostly on south-facing rocky slopes, and that they do not hibernate during the colder months. Instead, they will often bask on the rock faces when the sun shines directly on the rock (even when ambient temperatures are near freezing). During warmer months, the lizards move from overwintering sites into the forest, often along rivers (Bishop and Echternacht 2003, 2004). South of the Park, this species can be found in abundance along the banks of larger rivers.

North Carolina GAP Analysis Project

North Carolina GAP Analysis Project

In North Carolina, green anoles range up the Atlantic coast to Virginia, but have a more jagged latitudinal distribution moving west across the state. Known records (Palmer and Braswell 1995) decline in latitude as one approaches the city of Charlotte from the east, tapering to just barely north of the South Carolina border. Then, some curious incursions and apparently disjunct populations are recorded from west of the I-77 corridor (what generally constitutes Western North Carolina).

Anolis carolinensis from Chimney Rock, NC.

Anolis carolinensis from Chimney Rock, NC.

With one season under the belt, so to speak, my Herpetology class at the University of North Carolina Asheville and I have found what we think might be the closest population of green anoles to Asheville, North Carolina. This population occurs in a steep valley near Chimney Rock, North Carolina. Interestingly, they have access to steep south-facing rocky slopes above the valley. I thought I would poll the group and see if anyone has any hot tips on anole populations in the east Tennessee/Western North Carolina region. We are considering making this a Herpetology class project in the future- to map out the anole populations in this part of the state to see if they are in fact disjunct and whether any additional populations can be found. We will keep AA posted.

About Graham Reynolds

Graham is an Assistant Professor at the University of North Carolina Asheville. His research focuses on Caribbean herpetology- specifically anoles and boas.

7 thoughts on “Western North Carolina Green Anoles

  1. Hey Graham,

    Great info on these guys out west. More study would be great!

    Here a few impressions of anole ecology from central NC: Here in the Piedmont (Raleigh) they’re pretty spotty too. There’s not a lot of rock for them to exploit here, but south-facing shorelines of reservoirs and large ponds seem to be a good place for anoles. My guess is that the extra sun and a shallow water table moderate winter temps sufficiently to allow them to hang on during harsh winters. I’ve seen them basking in every month of the year here in Raleigh – often times in good numbers as long as the temps are above 50 and the sun is strong (saw 29 in 35 minutes last weekend). Interestingly, in urban areas, their distribution doesn’t follow this trend. In fact, I can’t seem to make sense of it. Perhaps, houses and leaf piles provide sufficient thermal refuge for them in towns, but who knows.

    Skip, they are at Hatteras, Buxton, and on Ocracoke. I saw quite a few of them at each of these locations this past January. There were dozens at the Hatteras lighthouse parking lot, Ocracoke beach access parking lots, and along the ridges in Buxton woods.

    *I usually post my NC anole observations to iNaturalist in case anyone is interested in locations.

  2. I just came across this post, and it’s very interesting. My success in finding green anoles in NC was limited to the eastern portion of their range in the state, but Sandy Echternacht gave me great advice on where to find them near Knoxville, TN, just over the border. Check U.S. route 129 along Little Tennessee River/Chilhowee Lake. We found them there one hot August on those very southward facing slopes – many of them were in the leaf litter as well so you’ll have to get used to looking for anoles on the ground!

    1. I should also add that all the genetic data suggests that those populations east and west of the higher elevations in the park have not shared genes for a very long time, and probably originate from separate ancient dispersal events. So the potential is there for independent climate-mediated adaptations.

  3. They are quite abundant around the Lowes Home Improvement Headquarters in Mooresville, NC (Iredell County) approximately 35 miles north of Charlotte. Have seen them on the fence posts and shrubbery that surround the manmade lake in the back of the building.

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