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When a Meal Can Bite Back

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A Brown Anole (Anolis sagrei) attempts to make a meal of a large centipede.

Anoles eat a wide variety of food items present in their environments, including all sorts of arthropods, and, occasionally, smaller anoles! We might expect that anoles would choose safe, appropriately-sized prey that would reduce chances of injury and guarantee a meal. However, some anoles, including brown anoles (Anolis sagrei), have been seen taking on potential prey that are either quite large (enough that we might foresee trouble actually swallowing the prey item) or poisonous or venomous, such as caterpillars and centipedes.

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Another attempt at subduing the centipede.

Margaret Griffis O’Brien, a contributor to iNaturalist, recently observed just such a showdown on the mean streets of Miami between a brown anole and a centipede nearly its own body size. The anole made repeated attempts to take down the centipede before it was scared away from its potential meal by an intervening automobile. The centipede was injured enough from the battle that it was unable to leave the road and later in the day was found flattened by the continued traffic. The centipede, either an eastern bark centipede or the invasive Rhysida longipes, was a member of the family Scolopendridae, a group of centipedes known to possess powerful and painful (to humans, at least!) venoms.

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The anole’s predation attempt was characterized by a lot of waiting for opportune moments to attack followed by quick strikes at the centipede.

Given that large, venomous centipedes have been documented in the diet of A. sagrei previously, it would be interesting to know if anoles are able to consume centipedes without being envenomated, how susceptible they are to centipede venom, and whether consuming these large, potentially dangerous prey items is advantageous for these lizards.

All photos by Margaret Griffis O’Brien.

4 thoughts on “When a Meal Can Bite Back

  1. Awesome photos!!!! I’m no centipede expert, but the banded legs, large size, and blue-colored body make me think this could be the Florida blue centipede (Hemiscolopendra marginata). I find them fairly regularly inside brown (A. sagrei) and Puerto Rican crested (A. cristatellus) anoles from Miami. This particular centipede is one of the larger items these anoles will eat and will sometimes exceed the anole in body length (as pictured). Looking at these large centipedes under a dissecting scope gives one a real appreciation for the tenacity of both predators. I imagine the centipedes must win some of the time. Cool stuff, thanks!

    1. Sean, Thanks! Yes, I thought it likely to be an H. marginata as well (should have used the scientific name instead of common name!) until another iNaturalist user suggested R. longipes as a potential ID. I found some work on iding them (Wray et al. 2015: http://journals.fcla.edu/flaent/article/view/84460/84029) but couldn’t see any of the key characters in the photos. I too think the centipedes have to win at least occasionally…they make a 200 lb human (me) think twice before picking them up!

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