All posts by Miguel Landestoy

Report of Interspecific Fighting in Anolis from the Dominican Republic

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Photos and notes from Bianka Sanó, a Dominican biology student interested in herpetology:

On the morning of December 26 2016, at 0940 h, in Haina, San Cristóbal, two males of the genus Anolis, belonging to different ecomorphs, A. distichus (trunk), and A. chlorocyanus (trunk-crown), were observed engaged in combat. The lizards were found on a concrete substrate both biting each other on the dorsum (A. distichus held its bite closer to the forelimbs), and remained motionless for approximately 30 seconds. In spite of the A. chlorocyanus being of a larger size, his opponent seemed to be taking the lead in the confrontation; subsequently the A. chlorocyanus got off the engagement and in its attempt to escape, the A. distichus attacked again by biting the A. chlorocyanus in the same place, but this time the A. chlorocyanus failed to reach its opponent in order to defend itself. After about 20 minutes the A. distichus released his opponent and the two went in opposite directions, and while in the move, it was noticeable that both animals were injured.

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How a Well-Hidden Giant Got Uncovered: the Discovery of a New Anole Species from Hispaniola

Anolis landestoyi. Photo by Miguel Landestoy

My first encounter with the new Hispaniolan giant anole species was in December 2005, when leading a birdwatching tour west of Puerto Escondido, Sierra de Bahoruco, for a group from Scotland. Early one morning, just before dawn, we stopped at what was to become the type locality of the new lizard species and stayed for several minutes searching for some night birds (nightjars, poorwills and potoos) which are most active during crepuscular time windows. It became light, though still without sun. While standing next to the forest edge, the crawling of one of these giant lizards caught my eye. It was moving from a lower tree branch (presumably its roosting perch) towards the trunk and the treetop. It quickly moved out of view, disappearing within seconds. There were no chances for photography or capture.

One and a half years later, in May 2007, I was conducting a nest search for the endangered endemic Bay-breasted Cuckoo at the same locality. Starting at around 9 am, I hiked the trail that goes north in the bottom of the canyon, and nearly one hour later, I spotted two of these fairly large forest birds, foraging in the well wooded area. Closely and silently following the pair, I hid in a stalking manner behind vegetation and logs, occasionally getting my small binoculars out from my shirt pocket to see in detail behavioral events (feeding and mating were observed). This forest is pretty lush during the rainy season, and mosquitoes were everywhere, covering all exposed areas of one’s body. Somewhere between 11 and noon, on a sunny day, the pair seemed to have had enough activity and their stomachs may have been full (with all the cicadas around, that wouldn’t have been too hard). The birds were resting, not high in the trees, and away from sun. One of them was closer to me, well in view, and this same bird took off from its branch once, striking and trying to pull something off of a branch… It happened so fast that I could only pay attention to the bird. But my curiosity was piqued: there should be something on that branch… Binoculars out again, with cautious moves, I examined the branch. A slow scan revealed an extremely well camouflaged lizard, head facing down, that was also getting away from the sunny tree canopy. At first glance it resembled one of these large, big-headed anoles (wait, this looks like one of those barahonae-ricordii giants), but it was distinctly and unusually ashy and pale in coloration. I stared at the anole for some time, and when the birds were gone, it started moving lower down slowly. It came as close as 2 meters from ground, the right moment to attempt capture. Fortunately I had a bit of more luck than the birds had, and I captured the animal. Briefly studying the animal in hand, I noted the large dewlap and odd pattern, and took a few photos, but the lizard was faster than it looked! In a matter of seconds it quickly ran along the branch and then up the trunk and escaped!

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The giant Anolis ricordii, from a population not previously reported, east of the type locality. Males are usually pale-grayish like the one in this photo.

One year later, I met some great friends and professionals. Rich Glor was visiting with some students, as was Luke Mahler and some of his (Losos) lab mates and field assistants. I showed them a photo of the animal from my laptop, that only depicted the front part of the animal (head and anterior half). They had a very tight and ambitious schedule to complete during that visit, and unfortunately they weren’t able to visit that fairly distant locality.

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First photograph of the recently described Hispaniolan giant species.

The following year I was taking a workshop on natural history and scientific illustration given by the acclaimed Cuban naturalist and artist Nils Navarro, and while choosing some photos for an illustration, one from the strange anole came in view. Nils, who knows the Cuban fauna very well, immediately noted its similarity with Cuban Chamaeleolis-clade anoles. To his chagrin, I told him I hadn’t secured a specimen yet, but that I would try.

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Nearly fully extended dewlap of a captured Anolis landestoyi.

No more news from the odd looking anole, until March 2010, when I had the opportunity to re-visit the locality on my own, and dedicated some time to search for the beast. After three hours of night herping, scanning many epiphytes, tree branches, twigs, vines, leaves and trunks, I found one individual, very close from the 2005 encounter! This individual was captured and photographed. The more detailed images of the new individual revealed more unique characters, strongly pointing out the argument that was in fact a new species, and its resemblance in many aspects to the Cuban Chamaeleolis-clade was already obvious. Those photos were sent to the authors, which prompted a visit by Luke.

Nearly a week later, on April 1st, Luke was already sitting at the ministry office when we first spoke by phone that day. To Luke’s unfortunate coincidence with the current date’s event, I told Luke that I did not believe that he could take a plane so fast to the DR… “Wait, what? Luke, don’t tell me you actually came all the way down here man!” Luke responded: Yes man, I told you I would.” Me: “But I couldn’t believe you were so decided, and so responsive to those photos. Luke, honestly, those were actually taken in Cuba during my last visit to the land of Chamaeleolis.” Luke: “Are you serious man? Don’t tell me that now, Jesus!”… When I was convinced he had enough torturing, I came clean and told him it was a just a joke: “Happy April’s Fools Day amigo!” Luke was still skeptical, since he wasn’t sure I was still playing the prank, nor I was just revealing that I was in fact playing a prank to him. Bad (or actually good, indeed) timing, I guess.

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The senior author of the paper, Luke Mahler (left), and a local who happened to have some luck.

Luke came not only to see the specimen I had in captivity, but also to personally visit the locality and get to know the habitat and the species in the field. After several hours of traveling, we arrived just before evening, right after a light rain shower. We began our search once Luke took some habitat photos at the day’s last light. It may have taken nearly two hours to find the first one, a male that I spotted at about 1.5 m of height, head down. Luke secured a female some minutes after, and there they were, a pair of adults!

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The “mystical” forest at the type locality. There are parts of this forest with plenty of the bromeliad plant commonly called “Spanish Moss.”

Finally, after some years of hard field and lab work, the species came out of the anonymity, even though it must still be hiding deep into the dense viney and undergrowth transitional vegetation of the well wooded canyon (or more technically proper, “polje”), where the spanish moss and other epiphytes hang paradoxically within the cacti and hardwood forest surrounded by the big blocks of limestone that characterize this yet remote mountain chain. Threats are not too far from this rarity: in spite of this area being protected (Reserva Biológica Loma Charco Azul), due its proximity to the Haitian border, there is intense slash and burning agriculture in the hills west, and wood charcoal is produced in large amounts and taken to Haiti where it is the basic fuel for cooking. Is the species confined to the bottom valley of this canyon? All current knowledge point it out as very possible, which would mean that the species has a very small and highly vulnerable range.

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Forest burning near the type locality of the recently described anole. In the hills of western Sierra de Bahoruco.

Rodent Sticky Trap Snags a Rat and a Lizard

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I have heard of the use of sticky traps for studying lizards, though a colleague told me they seem to be of uncertain safety for anoles, as his recapture records were almost nonexistent.

We finally gave up on the “bio-warfare” of feline-infantry to a recent rodent invader to the house, and had to put this trap out last night inside the house. This morning we found the intruder caught in it (juvenile Rattus sp.), but the domestic service lady put it for a minute in the backyard and not long after an Anolis distichus was also caught, probably in the seek of flies stuck to the trap (see photos). She then called me and I used an old trick, pouring (vegetable) oil in the prey in order to make it come loose from the trap’s glue surface.IMG_1444

Could the oil create a thermic or clinging capability problem to the lizard? It obviously forms a coating above scales, hence I rubbed it with napkins and then placed it back to its favorite microhabitat (trunk bark) for it to bask and recover.
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The lizard (38 mm SVL) was toe-clipped and marked in the belly and put back in the backyard. Hopefully we can have a recapture in some days (if cats and sparrows don’t get it first).
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A Little Giant’s Dewlap… Why Do They Need One?

Anolis ricordii. Photo by Miguel Landestoy.

Anolis ricordii. Photo by Miguel Landestoy.

If a juvenile anole has a dewlap since birth, there must be a reason for it, but what is it?  Juvenile hispaniolan crown giants do have them and here is a video of one using it. This Anolis ricordii was only 52.10 mm in SVL and was showing his stuff while a colleague was taking photos of it. We placed it in the tree and left it for about 10 minutes without disturbing it, after which it started dewlapping and bobbing the head. At one point, the dewlap was fully extended, but by the time I got my “pocket” camera ready, this was all it gave.

Later on, another individual, which was somewhat smaller, was found on the ground on a rainy day. There must be intraspecific spatial niche partitioning, when your parents are higher up and could eat you, it must be safer to stay away. Would a dewlap also be useful mainly for “pushing” away potential competitors/predators, as A. cybotes?

The Anole Bunch-Munch Frenzy

_MG_4001 copyAfter an early afternoon rain in western Cordillera Central of the Dominican Republic, a swarm of “flying ants” emerged from a nest on ground, most of them gathering at top of this antenna pole, attracting the attention of the neighboring community of anoles. Approximately a “platoon” of 2 dozen of A. chlorocyanus started climbing up the 7-8 meter tall pole, a few A. cybotes stayed low, and at least one A. distichus joined the feast. The lizards came from two small wooden buildings and used the wire (seen near top, at right side) and roof-to-nearest bushes jumps to access the pole. Many more came and went. Certainly, there were several males, and dewlap displays were made once in a while, but there was no time (or no real need?) for a fight this time. Some male chlorocyanus live very close to each other in those buildings (along with several females), and show notorious scars over their faces.

Editor’s Note: Here’s another video that Miguel mentioned in a comment (below):

From North to South (Paleo-islands).

The Hispaniolan Northern Green Anole (Anolis cholorocyanus) is a widespread species in the trunk-crown ecomorph. Its known distribution is almost entirely restricted, as the name indicates, to the north paleo-island of Hispaniola, but also includes Gonave, Tortue and Saona islands, and some portions of local “mesic” (oases) forests and hills south of Valle de Neiba, in the northern slopes of Sierra de Baoruco.

A. chlorocyanus, photographed at Jaragua National Park station in Laguna de Oviedo, Pedernales province.

The individual pictured to the left was photographed the 12th of March 2013 in a far south locality for the species, in the facilities of the Jaragua National Park, NE of Oviedo. Consulting Schwartz & Henderson 1991, and Henderson & Powell 2009, it is mentioned that its occurrence may extend into the Barahona city, which is 53 kms from the recently reported locality (Google Earth, measured as airline distance). Caribherp.com does not display it for that area in the species’ range map. Anolis chlorocyanus is a mesophilic anole as well as a human commensal, so there is the possibility that the species arrived at this disjunct locality by the transportation of construction material used to build the park’s station (several years ago), or arrived on flotsam that often washes ashore in this area of the Barahona peninsula coast (sea currents bring debris and garbage from far east). Since A. chlorocyanus‘s south island counterpart, A. coelestinus, has a restricted range through the Domincan Republic, I haven’t seen any interaction between the two, despite the fact that the latter is also a human commensal (in Pedernales and along the Barahona coast). A similar scenario could be displayed when comparing distributions of other two ecologically (tough xeric) equivalent north and south island species: A. whitemani and A. longitibialis; the former shares a similar distribution with A. chlorocyanus along the Baorucos, and seems to be limited by topographic/climate features or direct competition by its southern counterpart, A. longitibialis. I have observed both species of trunk-ground anoles independently using the same saxicolous-based subtrate in this mountain range, one in the southern (but primarily in the Barahona peninsula’s lowlands), the other in its northern slopes.

Adding some more ecological notes, A. chlorocyanus can often be observed using royal palm trees (Roystonea), usually high near the base of flower/fruit fronds, which when in blossom attract many bees and other insects. A. chlorocyanus as typically seen in Los Haitises, in a royal palm (Roystonea). Photo taken near Caño Hondo.

A. chlorocyanus as typically seen in Los Haitises, in a royal palm (Roystonea). Photo taken near Caño Hondo.

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A Giant’s Snack And As A Snack (itself)

Even with their large size, and one spending quite some time in their territories, it is somewhat difficult to find a Giant Anole during the day in the Dominican Republic. The most widespread and common species (at least in the Dominican side) is A. baleatus, which is not an unusual sighting at the mesic riparian forest of “Gran Cañada” in the botanical garden of Santo Domingo. But even there, observations are limited by spotting an animal right after it moves to hide away from view (squirreling or slowly sliding around tree trunks). The population in this particular locality seems to be stable and not pursued by people, whom locally have the misbelief that they are aggressive and harmful to humans.

Regarding a local species, A. barahonae, possibly the first encounter I had with this species was back in 2003, in the hills above Enriquillo, southwest of Barahona, where through binoculars, I saw at the distance and high in a large tree a White-necked Crow (Corvus leucognaphalus) holding a large, strong, greenish anoline lizard it its beak. Although I couldn’t see many details of the lizard, I think it must have been A. barahonae because it is the only Giant anole known from that locality. The White-necked Crow forages mainly in flocks and in the canopy, so I suppose that they represent a common predator to that anole species.

After that encounter, I have seen just a few more to date: one basking in a large tree in a shade coffee plantation, also in an epiphyte-packed tree in a cloud forest. This time (yesterday), a fellow local biologist and I were exploring some rivers in the Nizaito watershed, also south west of Barahona. Specificly at a tributary stream that pours into Río Paraiso, while taking photos to a basking Ameiva taeniura aside the road, about 11:00 a.m., I heard some noise coming from a nearby cluster of rather young Cecropia trees. Then my attention was caught by a glimpse of the wing beats of a sphinx moth, soon realizing that it already was in the mouth of a Baoruco Giant Anole. The anole kept still while holding its prey, with tail hanging outwards off the leaf where it was perched.

Unfortunately, I didn’t see the action before the attack happened, but as seen in the pictures, the dead leaf of the Cecropia was probably the perch that the moth used for roosting throughout the day. As most moths are nocturnal in habits, it is likely that it was inmobile siting there just relying in its cryptic coloration and pattern. In an earlier post: A. cuvieri On The Prowl, some excellent photographs by fellow naturalist Father Sanchez showed a Puerto Rican Giant Anole (Anolis cuvieri) deliberately moving about at moderate heights and using several kind of perches. I often imagine that all these anoles would take their prey mostly up in the canopy or high in the tree trunk, but these photographs of the A. barahonae eating this moth were taken at a height of 3 meters, atop of a small tree (Piperaceae) almost overlapping with a taller (8 m) Cecropia tree. Previous to when I heard the sounds coming from the attack, I didn’t notice any motion in the area as I was pretty close. The anole may have been stalking or more likely foraging and scanning this (unusual?) substrate in search of random prey.

Continue reading A Giant’s Snack And As A Snack (itself)

An Anole Murder Mystery?

Looking through old image files I found the above picture. At first glance, this may look like an unearthed fossil. No way. Try to earn some points by answering the questions below:

  1. Which species is this?
  2. What happened to it (cause of death)?
  3. Where (within the DR) or in which type of habitat did this take place (this is linked to #1 and #2)?
  4. What is the dark patch in the background/horizon, located in the upper right of picture (linked to #2 and #3).

An Anole That Sees With Its Eyes Closed

The last post makes me recall this weird situation while in Cuba in 2007. Anolis argenteolus seems to have a “fake eye” right at its eyelid. This is mentioned in the species’ descriptions as 2 transparent palpebral scales “as windows”… Looking at some pictures I noticed the scale’s surface being quite reflective and with some iridescence, but it is hard to tell whether they really can see thru it or whether it is just a false eye so when they roost or they close their eyes during the day they are able to show that they still alert. According to Williams & Hecht (1955), these “windows” in the lower eyelids are presumed to act as “sunglasses” in order to reduce light intensity, though I saw the animal doing this even in shady situations. Or they may serve to detect movement while sleeping (Vergner and Polak, 1996).

Continue reading An Anole That Sees With Its Eyes Closed