All posts by Jonathan Losos

About Jonathan Losos

Professor and Curator of Herpetology at the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University. I've spent my entire professional career studying anoles and have discovered that the more I learn about anoles, the more I realize I don't know.

Night Time Activity by the Brown Anole in Guatemala

Night time’s not just for sleeping in the festive anole.

Everyone knows that anoles are diurnal, active by day and snoozing by night. Yet the rascals are opportunistic–light up the night, and they’ll take advantage to extend their carousing and foraging. We’ve had reports on such behavior before [1, 2] in the green and knight anoles (and there are more reports in the literature); now such behavior is reported in the brown anole from Guatemala, in a recent paper by Brown and Arrivillaga published recently in Mesoamerican Herpetology.

Sneak Preview of New Smithsonian Channel film on Anolis Lizards

From the Harvard Museums of Science and Culture webpage:


Film Screening: Sneak Preview of Laws of the Lizard + Q&A with Filmmakers

Date:

Monday, December 11, 2017, 6:00pm

Location:

Geological Lecture Hall, 24 Oxford Street

People holding lizard

When scientists ask big questions about the laws of nature, they sometimes seek out improbable partners—such as lizards—to find the answers. In their new documentary, Laws of the Lizard, award-winning filmmakers Nate Dappen and Neil Losin partner with scientists to tell the surprising story of anole lizards.

During a year-long quest that took them from tiny Bahamian islands and Caribbean rainforests, to metropolitan Miami, Dappen and Losin capture cutting-edge science, new anole species, and never-before-seen behaviors. They quickly came to understand why Jonathan Losos, Harvard evolutionary biologist—and anole lizard expert—humorously says “Any study you do is more interesting if you do it on anoles!”

Join us for a special preview screening of Laws of the Lizard—coming to the Smithsonian Channel in 2018—followed by a Q&A with the filmmakers and Harvard Professor Jonathan Losos.

Film Screening (51 minutes)

Free parking is available at the 52 Oxford Street Garage

Free and open to the public

Invasive Species Removed from Desecheo Island: Good News for Anolis desechensis

Anolis desechensis is a variant of A. cristatellus found on the Puerto Rican island of Desecheo. The island has a diversity of other species, many of them of conservation value, but it has been devastated by introduced species. The good news: concerted actions have removed most of the invaders, and the island is recovering! Read all about it in the post below, which appeared on Cool Green Science.

Recovery: The Salvation of Desecheo National Wildlife Refuge

NOVEMBER 6, 2017

 

Isla Desecheo, Puerto Rico. Photo by Claudio Uribe/Island Conservation

Good news is scarce in Puerto Rico these days. But if you look 13 miles to the west, on a 358-acre island called Desecheo, you’ll find a mother lode.

Desecheo, once the Caribbean’s most important brown booby breeding habitat, was made a national wildlife refuge in 1976. This was something of a futile gesture because invasive aliens — black rats, feral goats and macaque monkeys — had extirpated the brown boobies (which once numbered around 10,000) along with the seven other nesting sea-bird species. The invasive species also blighted forests and the federally threatened Higo Chumbo cactus, and reduced native land birds, reptiles and invertebrates to a shadow of their former abundance.

Desecheo was an ecological wasteland.

In 1976 there was virtually nothing the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service could do about that. But in 1994 it acquired a powerful ally with the founding of Island Conservation (IC), a nonprofit team of biologists dedicated to preventing extinctions around the globe. There was and is no shortage of work. Although islands comprise a miniscule fraction of Earth’s landmass they harbor about half of all endangered species. At least 80 percent of the 245 recorded animal extinctions since 1500 have occurred on islands.

IC and multiple partners (frequently The Nature Conservancy) have thus far removed invasive mammals from 59 islands thereby benefitting 1,090 populations of 402 native species and subspecies. Research just released by IC, Birdlife International, the International Union for Conservation of Nature, and the University of California at Santa Cruz demonstrates that 41 percent of the planet’s vertebrates threatened with extinction can be saved by ridding certain islands of invasive mammals.

Last July, after an exhausting, expensive ten-year battle, IC and its partners certified that Desecheo National Wildlife Refuge was free of macaques (if you don’t count a single, aging female) and rats. The last feral goat was removed in 2009.

Such successes were impossible before the advent of recent technology including: the anticoagulant rodenticide brodifacoum, sufficiently fast acting to kill rats before they learn to avoid it; thermal imaging which allows partners to detect alien mammals at night and in forest canopies; GIS (Geographic Information System) for recording precise positions on Earth’s surface so that rodenticide-laced bait can be applied to every part of an island; and satellite imaging to determine when islands lose greenery so eradications can happen when less food is available to aliens.

Higo Chumbo by the Coast, Isla Desecheo. Photo by Island Conservation

Even with goats (introduced in 1788) and rats (introduced circa 1900) a few sea birds hung on. What finally did them in were the macaques, unleashed in 1966 for medical research by the then clueless National Institutes of Health.

Ecological Illiteracy Leads to Ecological Wastelands

The most formidable obstacle confronting IC and partners is ecological illiteracy. They get savaged by chemophobes who fear and loathe all poisons in all situations and by animal-rights types who defend alien wildlife, rats included, and decry the often unavoidable, increasingly minor and always inconsequential bykill of non-target wildlife.

The Desecheo project, however, proceeded unopposed. It wasn’t as if Puerto Ricans are more enlightened than other Americans. It’s just that they live in an alien-infested hell of macaques that tear up their gardens and bite them, exposing them to the herpes B virus (relatively harmless to macaques but usually fatal to humans), feral hogs and feral goats which also tear up their gardens, feral cats which infect them and wildlife with toxoplasmosis, and a biblical plague of rats and house mice.

Public reaction was different at Channel Islands National Park off southern California. When IC and partners set about saving and restoring a host of native species including the endangered ashy storm-petrel, imperiled Scripps’s murrelet, Cassin’s Auklet and Anacapa deer mouse by eradicating black rats, they were delayed by litigation. Typical commentary in the local press included: “Species go extinct all the time” and “Who are humans to call other species invasive?” Park rangers were obliged to wear bulletproof vests; and shortly before the first bait application, two men landed on Anacapa Island in an inflatable boat and started flinging pellets of vitamin K — brodifacoum’s antidote.

Desecheo Beach Camp. Photo by Claudio Uribe/Island Conservation

Had Anacapa been infested with macaques, recovery would have been a political impossibility.

Prudently, IC doesn’t talk it up about how it, the USDA’s Wildlife Services and a nonprofit group called White Buffalo removed macaques from Desecheo. But it’s important for the public to understand just how difficult and heroic was this effort, a first in island recovery. Learning as they worked, the partners first tried baiting and trapping. It failed. They had better results with rifles but had to bring in thermal-imaging equipment when the macaques retreated to the forest canopy.

“It was a hell hole,” recalls White Buffalo’s president, Dr. Anthony DeNicola. “Ninety or 100 degrees with no place to get out of the sun.”

IC and White Buffalo staffers would sit for 14 hours a day, scanning trees and terrain with binoculars. Toward the end it would take them a month to take out one or two monkeys. Finally they had to bring in tagged, sterilized “Judas animals” from Puerto Rico to socialize with the few remaining wild ones and reveal their presence. It took five years to finish the job.

Desecheo bird eggs. Photo by Claudio Uribe/Island Conservation

Safe for Birds Again

The reluctance of IC to offer such details in its press releases and interviews doesn’t mean it tries to fly under the radar. “That would be inconsistent with our values,” remarks Heath Packard, IC’s director of government and public relations. It would also be illegal under the National Environmental Policy Act, which requires IC and its federal partners to engage with the public, disclosing alternatives and their various consequences.

Brown Booby, Isla Desecheo. Photo by Island Conservation

“The outreach is always the same,” says IC’s global affairs director, Gregg Howald. “It’s just that results of that outreach vary widely from location to location.”

Citing the Polynesian rat eradication on Lehua Island off Hawaii, completed September 13, Howald offers this: “For years we’d been reaching out to the community with blog postings, talking with people and holding public meetings. It wasn’t until late July that a few vocal individuals realized this was really going to happen and started trying to stop it, making lots of noise and drawing media attention. It was just off the rails. We had a public meeting in which people yelled at us for over two hours. It was horrible. Despite all our outreach, we wound up with a confrontation that started a cascade of anti-project misinformation.”

For example, the Huffington Post ran an op-ed by one Maggie Sergio (whom it identified as a “writer, conservationist and concerned citizen of the planet”) suggesting that five pilot whales, which later beached themselves on Kauai and died (as they commonly do everywhere they exist) were victims of diphacinone — an impossibility. Sergio also claimed that “three aerial poison drops, totaling 11.5 tons of diphacinone” were delivered by helicopter. There isn’t enough diphacinone in the world to drop 11.5 tons. What was dropped was 8.5 tons of bait of which .005 percent was diphacinone. This and other misinformation was recycled by local media.

Endemic Desecheo Anole, Isla Desecheo. Photo by Armando Feliciano/Island Conservation

It was exactly this sort of fear mongering that motivated the partners to use diphacinone, less toxic and therefore less effective than brodifacoum. But apparently it worked. “So far so good,” says Howald. All the rats we collared and monitored died. It will take time to tell for sure [if the project succeeded]. We did state in our environmental assessment that if diphacinone failed, we could come back in with brodifacoum.”

Either way Lehua Island will again be safe for federally threatened Newell’s shearwaters, band-rumped storm-petrels now a candidate for Endangered Species Act protection, wedge-tailed shearwaters, brown boobies, red-footed boobies, Laysan albatrosses, black-footed albatrosses, Christmas shearwaters, Bulwer’s petrels, red-tailed tropicbirds and black noddies.

Spectacular Results

Recovery of Desecheo’s native ecosystem is just beginning, but already results are spectacular. Despite insect surveys beginning in 1914 dingy purplewing butterflies had never been observed on the island. In April their caterpillars were so abundant they defoliated Almacigo trees. (Leaves quickly regenerated.)

Desecheo Butterfly. Photo by Armando Feliciano/Island Conservation

Endemic reptiles are doing much better, particularly Desecheo anoles, Desecheo ameivas and Puerto Rican racer snakes. A Puerto Rican skink, a species rarely observed in the past, has been sighted. Invertebrate density has increased. Native fruit trees and flowers are suddenly flourishing. New leaves, preferred by goats, rats and macaques, are more abundant than in anyone’s memory. Higo Chumbo cacti are rapidly recovering; and forests, particularly understories, appear to be growing faster.

Desecheo Flower. Photo by Armando Feliciano/Island Conservation

At this writing no one has visited the island since the hurricanes, but there are no refuge buildings on Desecheo; and in the tropics vegetation bounces back quickly. As of mid-October there were new leaves and blooms on Puerto Rico.

In its island-hoping war against introduced aliens IC builds on each victory. “One thing I’ve learned is that you can get so focused on individual projects you start to lose sight of the forest for the trees,” remarks Howald. “Now that we’ve had this success what does it mean? What’s the potential of Desecheo; what’s the leverage?”

The potential and leverage, he explains, is demonstration to regulatory agencies, the funding community and, especially, the public: that the choice is salvation of nearly half the world’s endangered species or the continued presence of alien invasives; that we can’t have both; that if we want the former, we have to take out the latter; and that we can do that without risk to humans or native wildlife populations.

Desecheo Panorama. Photo by Heath Packard/Island Conservation
Ted Williams

Ted Williams detests baseball, but is as obsessed with fishing as was the “real” (or, as he much prefers, “late”) Ted Williams. What he finds really discouraging is when readers meet him in person and still think he’s the frozen ballplayer. The surviving Ted writes full time on fish and wildlife issues. In addition to freelancing for national publications, he serves as Conservation Editor for Fly Rod & Reel where he contributes a regular feature-length column. More from Ted

Green Anoles on Tall Grass in Florida Swamps

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The Florida green anole, Anolis carolinensis, is a trunk-crown anole, usually seen on trees, often high up. So, what’s it doing on grasses low down? Alberto Estrada, an expert on Cuban lizards, reports the following:

It caught my attention to observe several specimens of A. carolinensis (smaller than the one in the photo above) posted on the spikes of the tall grass spikes on the lake shore at Miramar Pineland Park near Pembroke Pines, Broward, FL (25.97 ° N, -80.25W °). In my experience in Cuba with his close relatives A. porcatus and A. allisoni, I do not remember having seen them in such situations. They reminded me of the typical grass anoles such as A. pulchellus from Puerto Rico. As much as I searched, I did not find adults. In Tree Tops Park (26.07ºN, -80.28°W), if I have seen adults on the planks of the platform in the swamp and I have seen juveniles or subadults like the one the photo below in the reeds and on grasses that stand out from the water. I lived and worked for many years in the Ciénaga de Zapata, I had many experiences in marshy environments in the keys that surround Cuba, and I do not remember a single case of seeing the green anoles of Cuba in the same situation. Interesting experience!

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In turn, this reminds me of observations I made of Anolis allisoni on Roatan, as evident in the photo below:

Caption from original post: You thought I was kidding about the Roatan allisoni doing their best grass anole imitation? See how many you find in this photo. There are at least five, but maybe I missed some.

New Research on the Pointy-Nosed Anole from Little Cayman (Anolis maynardi

flicker cover

It’s been too long since we’ve discussed that pointy-snouted marvel, the Little Cayman anole. Fortunately, Flicker, the bimonthly magazine of the Terrestrial Resources Unit of the Department of the Environment of the Cayman Islands, has ended the drought, featuring a new research project on one of our favorite species in its most recent issue.

For those of you who can’t get enough of Anolis maynardi, check out some previous AA  posts [1, 2, 3]. For more, just type “maynardi” into the search bar to the right.

 

Egret Eats Green Anole

Photo by John Karges

Photo by John Karges

We’ve seen this before. Anoles are, alas, no match for these large and wily marauders. John Karges provides the story: “The egret was flying down the riparian woodland corridor over a side channel, and abruptly landed in the mid-story thicket overhanging the stream and immediately began a stalk. It lunge-grabbed the anole, and very quickly devoured the adult anole in a matter of seconds.”

And here’s where it went down: 2 Oct 2016 San Antonio Mission NHP, San Antonio, Bexar County, Texas.

And the inevitable outcome.

Photo by John Karges

Photo by John Karges

Concerns Raised over Introduction of Festive Anole to Bermuda

From the September 28, 2017 edition of The Royal Gazette, the daily newspaper of Bermuda.

Fears over lizard arrival

Jonathan Bell

  • Thriving: the brown anole, a new lizard species believed to have arrived from Florida (Photograph supplied)

Bermuda’s latest lizard arrival, the brown anole, appears to be thriving but is prompting concern over the island’s endangered natives.

The lizards, first seen in 2014 and recently spotted on the grounds of Aberfeldy Nursery in Paget, are suspected to have arrived from Florida.

One of that state’s most abundant lizards, the anole arrived there from the Caribbean, where it is native to the Bahamas and Cuba.

Popular as pets but aggressive breeders in the wild, the lizard, distinguished by ridges on its back, has proliferated in the southern United States.

According to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Bermuda has two distinct populations of brown anoles.

Genetic analysis shows that the two groups came from “separate founding events”, meaning the second did not arise from the first.

Noting the lizard’s capacity to spread rapidly, Jonathan Starling, executive director of the environmental group Greenrock, voiced concern that the anole would ultimately crowd out Bermuda’s imperilled skinks.

“Unlike the three other Anolis species known to be in Bermuda, the common blue Jamaican, the Warwick or Antiguan and the Barbados, this one is primarily a terrestrial species, the rest being arboreal or tree dwelling,” Mr Starling said.

“The endemic Bermuda skink, already at critically low populations, is also a primarily terrestrial species, so this new lizard poses a much bigger threat to it than the others did.

“I am not aware of the current range of this new lizard but I believe it is still confined within Pembroke and Paget parishes, so at the moment it is not coming into conflict with the remaining known skink populations. However it is likely their range will expand and come into contact with known skink populations within a decade, if not sooner.”

The unwelcome development is the latest of many threats to the endemic skink, which are easily trapped and killed by discarded bottles and cans.

Skinks are also at jeopardy from storms, as well as predation from other invasive species such as cats and rats.

“We’d hope that new initiatives, such as mandatory recycling or a bottle bill, would at least reduce that particular threat to skinks, which would likely benefit them in handling the novel threat posed by this invasive lizard,” Mr Starling said.

Dying Anoles with Eye Problems in Louisiana

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AA reader Jonathan McFarland sent in these disturbing photos with the following remarks:

“I hope you can shed some light on what’s happening to the wild anoles in my Louisiana suburban yard. This week I have found two adolescents with both eyes bleeding or infected. The attached pictures show only one side of the specimens but in each case both eyes appeared as shown. Any info you could provide would be much appreciated.”

Thoughts, anyone?

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Knight Anoles Introduced to Another Island: Abaco, Bahamas

Photo by Joel Sartore

The knight anole is really getting around these days: Turks & Caicos, Grand Bahama, Grand Cayman and many other islands. Now they’ve  made it to Abaco, Bahamas, where one individual was captured and possibly two others seen (see article in IRCF Reptiles and Amphibians)Abaco Scientist has an insightful discussion of introduced reptiles and amphibians on Abaco.

Female Green Anole with Sand on Her Head–Been Egg-Laying?

Photo-chronicler of Floridian natural history Karen Cusick has done it again. We’ve been captivated by her backyard photos before, but here’s photo of a female green anole with sand on its snout. Been digging holes to bury her eggs, maybe? And while Karen observed the little lady lizard, it suddenly darted into the bushed and emerged with a meal!

 

Shades of Bumpus: Polar Vortex-Induced Natural Selection on Cold Tolerance in the Green Anole

Shane Campbell-Staton had fortuitously measured the thermal physiology of a number of populations of the green anole, Anolis carolinensis, the summer before 2014’s Polar Vortex. So, he went back and examined the survivors. And sure enough, in the most southerly populations, those most strongly affected by the cold snap, natural selection had occurred. Shane tells Scientific American all about it in this podcast. The nifty figure above comes from the University of Illinois’ press release.

 

More Information on the Knight Anole Invasion of the Turks and Caicos

We reported recently that knight anoles (Anolis equestris) have shown up in the T&C. Here’s more on the story from B Naqqi Manco, the Terrestrial Ecologist at the Department of Environment and Maritime Affairs, Turks and Caicos Islands Government:

Cuban knight anoles are currently known from two sites on Providenciales: Vicinity of Beaches Resort in The Bight and Amanyara Resort on Northwest Point. Both populations showed up after the importation of large trees for landscaping from Miami. The properties are both irrigated pretty heavily to keep the bigger trees going. The tree imports were brought in before the Department of Agriculture was fully operative, so unfortunately things got in at that time that probably shouldn’t have made it through.

I don’t have confirmation of the knight anoles breeding, but I know The Bight population has been spreading with individuals having been found on adjacent properties and in a nearby residential neighbourhood. I would be very surprised if they’re not breeding on either site. Unfortunately we don’t have the capacity to monitor them well but this is something we want to keep a closer eye on and it would make a worthwhile research project for a student or intern. 

Thus far, they have not been reported from any other island or cay.