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.

Anole Exhibit at the American Museum of Natural Exhibit Also Talks about Cuba More Generally: New York Times Review


The American Museum of Natural History just opened an exhibit on anoles that also presents information on the natural history and culture of Cuba. Or maybe it’s the other way around. But either way, you have to love their logo. The New York Times just reviewed the exhibit, and not surprisingly, anoles were a centerpiece of the article.


And here’s some text from the article:


Lizard UV Vision and Signalling: Commercial Possibilities


From the recent ISBE Newsletter (28:2, p.26).

The artist, Ken Otter, who when not drawing is a professor at the University of Northern British Columbia, explains the back-story:

My first love was reptiles – birds came as a later incarnation (although I console myself that they are simply feathered reptiles).  I was actually planning on shifting to working on anoles during my postdoc.  I have had numerous ones as pets over the years – my students gave me a brown anole that became our lab mascot for about 5 years.  I even had an undergrad student at the University of Nottingham that I was co-supervising with Pete McGregor run trials to see if males eavesdrop on dewlap displays of other males. Unfortunately, the student was primarily focused on nature photography, and we had a miscommunication on scientific design.  I found out after the fact that he hadn’t quite followed protocol, so we couldn’t count all our trials, so the results were only ever presented in a conference poster and not published.  He ended up as a photographer for BBC Wildlife though!

I had actually been awarded a short-term postdoc back in the 90s from the Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour to test anole signalling behaviour using video playback systems (very similar to the stuff that has since been done using Robo-lizards).  Unfortunately, it came at the same time as I was offered a tenure track job here, and the University had a ‘northern research focus’ so wasn’t too keen on me heading off to the Caribbean to do field work.  Guess now that I have full professorship I could always tell them to stuff themselves, but I have my research program set up now!  Still find dewlap displaying fascinating, especially with the added component of UV signalling in the mix.  That aspect parallels a lot of the stuff with bird signalling.  The fact that males are in such close proximity and can see at least silhouettes of others displaying give a certain network component that Pete and I were always interested in pursuing, but just never go around to it.  Still occupies my thoughts (hence the cartoons) and talk about it in my lectures, but guess I will have to wait to put it into field practice!  Still, next North American Ornithological Congress in 2020 is being held in Puerto Rico….

And here’s another of his drawings:


Newly Described Dominican Anole Species Enshrined on Stamps


Earlier this year, we reported that researchers had split the four species of green anoles on Hispaniolia, describing 12 new species. Wasting no time–and with much beauty–the Dominican Republic has placed four of these new species on stamps! Thanks to the world’s authority on anoles on stamps, Uwe Bartelt, for bringing this to our attention.

Anole Watches Dirt Cheap Just Today: Act Quickly!







It’s that twice in the year opportunity to get AA anole watches at bargain basement prices in honor of today’s clock changes. Get ’em before they run out of stock (or, more importantly, before midnight). Use Code:


Trunk-Crown: Anolis allisoni

Crown-giant: Anolis equestris

Twig: Anolis occultus

Trunk-ground: Anolis marcanoi

Grass-bush: Anolis pulchellus

Cuban Trogon Eats Anole–But Which One?


Aslam Ibrahim Castellón Maure posted this photo on his Facebook page. Taken in the Zapata Peninsula, it’s a Cuban trogon eating an unidentified anole. The Cuban trogon, or tocoroco, is the national bird of Cuba. But what species of anole? Hispaniolan trogons have also been observed eating anoles. More surprisingly, their lovely relative the quetzal has also been reported to do so, notable because quetzals are thought to be primarily frugivorous.

Rick Shine Wins Top Australian Science Prize

It’s not clear whether Rick Shine would know an Anolis lizard if one hit him on the head, but there can be no doubt that he is a great scientist and herpetologist. Anole Annals is delighted to learn that tonight in Parliament House in Canberra, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull will present Rick with the 2016 Prime Minister’s Prize for Science. Previous winners have been biomedical researchers, cell biologists and astronomers, among others. Read all about it here. Congratulations, Rick!

Cannibalism in Jamaica: Anolis grahami Eats Another Anole

Photo by Wendy Lee

Wendy Lee photographed a Graham’s anole eating another anole, probably an A. lineatopus. The event went down on November 25, 2013 in Runaway Bay, Jamaica, where Wendy runs a wildlife rescue facility, the Seven Oaks Sanctuary for Wildlife. We’ve discussed anoles eating other anoles several times in these pages, most recently with regard to A. sabanus

Photo by Wendy Lee

Photo by Wendy Lee



Remarkable New Giant Anole Discovered in the Dominican Republic


Last week, Miguel Landestoy provided the details on the discovery of Anolis landestoyi, the new species from the Dominican Republic. The paper was published recently in The American Naturalist. Here’s what the press had to say:

The Canadian Broadcast Corporation:

A Caribbean lizard that remained undiscovered for many years despite its large size and distinctive looks has been identified as a new species.

The lizard, an anole that looks like a chameleon and has a similar talent for camouflage, lives in the canopy of a rare type of forest in the western Dominican Republic. Adults have a body length of up to 13.5 centimetres and a tail up to 18 centimetres long, making them unusually large for an anole. The new species is described as a “giant chameleon-like lizard” in a study published in the journal The American Naturalist.

The lizard was first spotted in 2007 by Dominican naturalist Miguel Landestoy while he was studying endangered birds called bay-breasted cuckoos.

‘There’s nothing else like that in and around the island.’– Luke Mahler, University of Toronto

“He noticed that these birds were agitated and seemed to be attacking something,” recalled Luke Mahler, a University of Toronto biologist and the lead author of the new study.

When Landestoy got closer, he saw a lizard and snapped a picture of it.

Convinced it was a new species, he showed the photo to Mahler, a lizard researcher who was working in the Dominican Republic at the time. But the photo was so grainy that Mahler couldn’t tell much other than it was an anole. He suggested that Landestoy try to capture a specimen.

Several years later, Landestoy spotted the lizard again and took some better photos.

Luke Mahler Miguel Landestoy

Luke Mahler (left) and Miguel Landestoy (right) pose for a photo shortly after capturing the first specimens of Anolis landestoyi. (Luke Mahler)

“As soon as he sent the pictures,” Mahler recalled, “I was like, ‘What the expletive is that? … There’s nothing else like that in and around the island.”

He added that the Caribbean has been very well explored, so that typically, any new species found there are so similar to existing species that they can only be distinguished with DNA testing.

The new lizard was a big anole, with stubby limbs, a short tail, and green-grey and light brown scales that help it blend in among the moss-covered branches of the semi-dry tropical forest where it lives.

“It’s super camouflaged, basically. It looks just like the bark,” said Mahler, who thinks that’s why it’s never been spotted before. “It’ll sit there and hug a branch and very slowly move one limb at a time.”

The lizard is similar to related anoles found in Cuba called chamaeleolisor chamaeleonides because they’re also chameleon-like.

Different islands, similar adaptations

That’s intriguing because biologists have always expected to find a lizard similar to chamaeleonides on Hispaniola, the island shared by Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Islands in the Caribbean tend to have similar environments and tend to evolve species with similar adaptations, even if they are not closely related.

New lizard

The newly discovered Hispaniolan lizard Anolis landestoyi (top) is very similar to the Cuban species A. porcus (bottom), part of a group called chamaeleonides. (Miguel Landestoy)

Mahler says more analysis needs to be done to figure out if the new lizard is similar to the chamaeleonides lizards because it’s closely related or because it evolved similar adaptations over time.

The new lizard has been named Anolis landestoyi after its discoverer.

Sadly, even though the new species was so recently discovered, it may not be around for much longer.

“We think that they’re probably quite endangered,” Mahler said.

That’s because it lives in a unique type of forest halfway up a mountain slope close to the border with Haiti. Although the forest is in a reserve called Lomo Charco Azul that’s officially protected, it’s threatened by illegal logging for agriculture, livestock grazing, and firewood.

The researchers are requesting that the new lizard be officially listed as critically endangered. They hope the new discovery will help draw attention to the threats to its habitat and lead to better protection.

Science Newsline:

We tend to think the contours of biodiversity are well known, especially in extensively studied areas. However, this is not necessarily the case and sometimes strikingly new species are discovered even in well-trod areas. A case in point is the country of the Dominican Republic, which has been thoroughly studied by biologists for more than 40 years, particularly by herpetologists who have exhaustively catalogued the reptiles and amphibians there for several decades. Continue reading Remarkable New Giant Anole Discovered in the Dominican Republic

Rodolfo Ruibal, R.I.P.

AA is sorry to learn of the passing of Rodolfo Ruibal, an eminent Cuban herpetologist based at UC-Riverside for many years. Rodolfo did important early work on thermal biology andsocial behavior of Caribbean anoles. For example, 1961 paper showed thermoconformity in some lizards (when everyone though that lizards always thermoregulate carefully), it showed that physiology can evolve faster than morphology, and it proposed that only thermoregulators (not thermoconformers) could invade the temp zone.

You can find transcripts from a 1998 interview with Rodolfo as part of a UC-Riverside history project. Here’s the obituary that recently appeared in UCR Today:

Professor Emeritus Rodolfo “Rudy” Ruibal, a founding member of UC Riverside’s Biology department whose passions included lizards, frogs and making beautiful jewelry, died Aug. 30 at the age of 88, just six months after the death of his wife of 68 years, Irene Shamu Ruibal.

“He was instrumental in forging the department in the directions and expertise that form its center now,” said Professor Michael Allen, chair of UCR’s biology department.

Ruibal was a native of Cuba who conducted research in several parts of South America with fellowships from the National Science Foundation and the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. He was an early student of temperature regulation in reptiles and amphibians, said friend and colleague Professor Mark Chappell, and was also known for his work with water loss in amphibians and their ability to waterproof their skin by using waxy glandular secretions the animals wipe over themselves.

“He taught the Biology 161 course, on functional vertebrate morphology, or ‘Vert’ to generations of premeds and other life science students, and was renowned for both the clarity of his lectures and for his skill in drawing structures on the blackboard,” said Chappell.

During Ruibal’s 42 years at UCR, he helped establish the Philip Boyd Desert Research Center and spent a year as the acting director of UC MEXUS, created to stimulate teaching and research between California and Mexico. Ruibal also spent a year advising a man he much admired—UC President Clark Kerr—about faculty requests and concerns.

“He always had one faculty member in his office,” Ruibal said during an oral history interview in 1998. “It was his way of simply making sure his faculty were being treated by an academic who knew what the score was, rather than somebody who was just a bureaucrat.”

Ruibal’s life read like a novel. He was born in Cuba on Oct. 27, 1927, an only child who attended the same Jesuit school as Fidel Castro. The budding scientist had an early fascination for animals, said his son, Claude Ruibal of Zurich, Switzerland. Rudy Ruibal’s earliest memories were of watching fish swimming in the waters of Cuba, and chasing lizards in his yard, something his aunt remembered years later, when he returned to Cuba for research on an NSF grant project.

Reptiles and research always fascinated Ruibal, and he excelled at an early age. He enrolled in Harvard when he was just 16 years old, after completing high school at the prestigious McBurney School in Manhattan.

Ruibal took a break from Harvard when he was 18, to serve in the military at the tail end of World War II. But he returned to school a year later and married his wife, Irene, a secretary in the Department of Herpetology in the American Museum of Natural History.

By the time he was 21, Ruibal had finished his BA at Harvard and enrolled at Columbia University for graduate studies in biology. At 26, Ruibal completed his PhD and accepted a position at a new liberal arts college called UC Riverside, where Howard Spieth, one of his former professors at Columbia, had become the chair of the life science’s department, and would later become the university’s first chancellor.

Ruibal began teaching in the fall of 1954, the second semester for a school so new that it had no landscaping or trees. Their son was born the following year, in 1955. Claude Ruibal said his parents were loving but not overbearing. His father, he said, “was a thoughtful guy, a moral guy—very rational and not very emotional. I don’t think I ever heard my parents argue.”

His mother loved to cook and throw dinner parties, and they cultivated a diverse group of close friends—artists, business people, even the publisher of the newspaper. His father loved tennis, playing into his 80s, and did a lot of reading about history and politics.

Ruibal also was a noted local artist. Shortly after he arrived in Riverside, he successfully lobbied the Riverside Art Museum to have real nude models available for sketching (instead of women in bathing suits). He later branched into candle making, ceramics —complete with his own kiln—and finally, making brass and silver jewelry, which were top sellers at the Riverside Art Museum, Mission Inn Museum and other locations.

Anole Fashion: Dorsal Crests and Curlicue Tails

Daffodil’s Photo Blog has some nice photos of stylish anoles. Some anoles–the festive anole (A. sagrei) being a prime example, seem to have a penchant for sitting with their tails hanging in a lovely. Why do they do it? Got me.

We do know why they raise their dorsal crests–to look fearsome, as this mini-dinosaur does. How they do it, though, is another matter, when discussed previously in these pages (1,2).

Anoles on Exhibit at the Milwaukee Public Museum



AA stalwart Tony Gamble has provided these two photos from exhibits at the Milwaukee Public Museum. The one above is a knight anole, whereas below, an Archaeopteryx appears to be dining on a green anole, significantly increasing our understanding of the age of the anole radiation.

AA’s other Wisconsin stalward, Greg Mayer, provides the low-down: “The equestris  is from the Rain Forest exhibit. This is a fabulous exhibit based mostly on the Costa Rican rain forest, but including some other tropical/rain forest elements. I take my vert. zool. class there every year, and have used it as part of the pre-trip preparation for Costa Rican field classes. It was funded in part by the NSF, and involved lots of field work–they did latex casts of trees to get the bark right for life size models of them! The Milwaukee Public Museum was much involved in making Costa Rica the center of tropical studies for US-based scientists. The MPM was slightly independent of OTS. They had their own field station, La Tirimbina, which is very nice–I’ve taken students there 2 or 3 times.

Allen Young, the MPM lepidopterist, was the driving force for Milwaukee’s tropical studies. He wrote about his work at Tirimbina in Sarapiqui Chronicle (Smithsonian Institution Press, Wash. DC, 1991). Young first went to Costa Rica in 1968 with OTS, then focused his work at Tirimbina. (Bob Hunter, who owned Tirimbina at the time, also owned part of La Selva, and was involved in getting both places established as field stations.) MPM’s stake in Tirimbina was sold off by then Milwaukee county executive (now governor) Scott Walker, who couldn’t imagine why a natural history museum in Wisconsin could be interested in Costa Rica. Fortunately, another conservation organization bought MPM’s share.

Others were involved in the exhibit creation as well, and though I’ve never asked him, I’ve always thought the Anolis equestris behavior display in the rain forest exhibit may have been a contribution of Bob Henderson. There are several males and females (not sure if they’re freeze-dried, or some kind of model), showing various levels of agonistic display– fans, nuchal crests, open mouth, raised posture– set out on vines/branches. A question I ask vert. zool. students about this display case is how could they tell the lizards are arboreal, even if they were not posed on branches.”

And with regard to the photo below: “The other picture is from the Third Planet exhibit (I’m always tempted to write Third Rock!), from a section of that very good exhibit on the Hell Creek Formation and the end Cretaceous vertebrate extinctions. The MPM has two Archaeopteryx models made up with feathers, and the one in the pic has a dried or model Anolis carolinensis in its mouth, painted a fairly bright green. The other Archaeopteryx model is better done, and that one goes out on loan periodically to other museums (I think I’ve seen it at the Field Museum).


Owls Eat a Lot of Anoles: Data from Dominica

An owl with a green anole.

A recent paper in the Caribbean Journal of Science on the diet of the Lesser Antillean barn owl on Dominica revealed that anoles, specifically the native species A. oculatus, are a very frequent prey item, constituting 193 of the 517 prey items. The authors note that owls are nocturnal and anoles are diurnal and proffer three explanations: 1. the predation occurs at dawn and dusk, when both species are normally active; 2. the anoles are active around lights at night; 3. the owls are catching the anoles while they sleep. We’ve discussed this topic before: owls are known to eat anoles in Cuba and many other places in the neotropics, and there’s the great photo re-posted below (original post here). As far as I’m aware, that’s the only direct observation of an anole being preyed upon by an owl (although a quick search on Google Images will yield many photos like the one at right). We’ve also discussed the parallel  issue of bat predation on anoles in these pages. Clearly, more data are needed!