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.

Puerto Rican Field Work

Lizard watching in Puerto Rico

The Leal Lab is hard at work in Puerto Rico this summer, and they’re reporting all about it on Chipojo Lab.

Ellee Cook, who recently graced these pages with a report on fever in anoles, is studying the behavior of female A. gundlachi and is reporting on the trials and tribulations of behavioral field work.

Meanwhile, Edward Ramirez is studying the physiology of hybrids between the grass anoles A. pulchellus and A. krugi.

Check out the details over at their site.

Racetrack for studying the sprint speed of hybrid lizards.

Puerto Rican Lizard Song

Liam Revell has kindly pointed out this awesome song from the Puerto Rican children’s show Atencion Atencion.

Here’s Liam’s translation:

“Un lagartijo se metió en la cueva,

de pronto asomó la cabeza,

miró para un lado y al otro,

y que pasó, y que pasó…”

In English:

“An anole went into the cave,

suddenly he poked out his head,

he looked to one side and the other,

and what happened, and what happened…”

Two New Review Papers on Adaptive Radiation

One of our favorite topics here at Anole Annals is adaptive radiation. Don’t believe me? Just type adaptive radiation into the search bar on the right and see all the interesting posts that come up. And why shouldn’t we be interested in AR? After all, anoles are one the great examples of the phenomenon.

So, it seems relevant to notice that two new review papers just appeared on the topic, both of which mention anoles at least in passing. Tom Givnish, in a paper in New Phytologist stemming from a conference on plant radiations last year, provides the most convincing analysis to date about why the term “adaptive radiation” should be reserved for clades that have diversified to occupy a wide range of ecological niches, regardless of how fast they have done so and how many species the clade contains (title of paper: Adaptive radiation versus ‘radiation’ and ‘explosive diversification’: why conceptual distinctions are fundamental to understanding evolution).

Some pithy quotes encapsulate his points:

“Of the early writers on adaptive radiation (Osborn, 1902; Huxley, 1942; Lack, 1947; Simpson, 1953; Carlquist, 1965; Mayr, 1970; Stebbins, 1974), only Simpson included what we might term explosive speciation in his concept of the process.”

“Definitions of adaptive radiation that require accelerations of species diversification relative to sister groups will thus fail to identify Darwin’s finches and Brocchinia  as adaptive radiations; excluding such iconic examples of adaptive radiation makes such diversification-based definitions untenable.”

“Why should we care about this distinction? Nothing could be more pointless than a pedantic debate about definitions that goes nowhere. I would argue, however, that making a distinction between adaptive radiation and explosive diversification is fundamental to understanding evolution, and that failure to make such distinctions can blur such understanding and hinder progress.”

Givnish goes on to suggest that “we might consider re-defining adaptive radiation as ‘the rise of a diversity of ecological roles and associated adaptations within a lineage, accompanied by an unusually high level or rate of accumulation of morphological/physiological/behavioral disparity and ecological divergence compared with sister taxa or groups with similar body plans and life histories.’ Such a definition would retain traditional components of adaptive radiation, while suggesting a way forward that includes tempo, not in species diversification, but in the rate of accumulation of disparity.”

Meanwhile, Soulebeau et al., in a new “Forum Paper” in Organisms Diversity & Evolution, conduct a review of the use of the term “adaptive radiation” in the period of 2003-2012 (title: The hypothesis of adaptive radiation in evolutionary biology: hard facts about a hazy concept). Givnish would say that it is hard to draw conclusions from a meta-analysis that lumps different concepts all under one name, but the review does show some patterns in how research is trending. If nothing else, the number of papers purporting to study adaptive radiation doubled over the time period. Moreover, the paper makes an important point that the number of studies that investigate whether adaptive evolution has occurred in a putative adaptive radiation is very low.

Green Anole Highlights New California Academy Exhibit on Color

cal acad green anole

The California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco has just opened a new exhibit, The Color of Life. You can read more about it at their website. Naturally, anoles played a prominent role in the exhibit, as the panel above attests. The small print says: “Anole lizards regularly advertise their ownership of their territories. They bob their heads and extend a colorful flap of skin called a dewlap, just in case another male is watching.”

calacad exhibitNotably, the anole gets much more prominent billing than frogs, which are relegated to a panel further back in the exhibit, as the photo to the right illustrates. Perhaps it’s not surprising, then, that Cal Acad Herpetology Curator Dave Blackburn has just inked a deal to move to the University of Florida where, sources say, he will not only become the Curator of Herpetology at the UF Museum of Natural History, but will also switch his research program from frogs to the local anoles. A wise move, indeed, and we look forward to his further explanation in the Comments section.

Are Brown Anoles in Florida Really Driving Green Anoles to Extinction II: What Biogeography and Evolution Have to Say

Anolis maynardi–doing just fine alongside brown anoles on Little Cayman

Two days ago, Ambika Kamath posted an entry in which she observed that the green anoles in her study site in Gainesville are doing just fine, they’re just high up in the trees and harder to spot than the abundant browns. She concluded that, contrary to what many think, brown anoles are not threatening greens in Florida with extinction.

I’d like to add to Ambika’s conclusion by pointing out how browns and greens interact throughout the natural range. Both species evolved in Cuba. There members of the sagrei group coexist widely with carolinensis’s relatives. Where they co-occur, brown anoles are very abundant and are found on the ground and low in vegetation. Greens, primarily A. allisoni and A. porcatus are seemingly less abundant (population estimates are not available) and they occur on tree trunks on up into the canopy.

This mostly peaceful coexistence is repeated in other places the two species co-occur. In the Bahamas, it’s A. smaragdinus and A. sagrei, on Little Cayman, it’s A. maynardi and A. sagrei. In both cases, sagrei is apparently much more abundant, and the two species occupy different parts of the habitat.

Some time ago (possibly several million years, according to genetic data), green anoles colonized Florida from Cuba. In the absence of browns, the greens took the arboreal to increase their habitat use, a phenomenon termed “ecological release.” Then the browns arrived, thanks to us. They have moved into their ancestral niche and the ancient order has been restored. Greens have moved back up in the trees and, yes, their populations are probably now smaller, because some of the resources they were using are now taken by browns. But they’re not going extinct. Greens and browns stably coexist throughout their range. That’s what they’ll do in Florida, too, as long as all the trees aren’t cut down for shopping malls and parking lots.

Transmission Vs. Reflectance: the Two Sides of the Dewlap Can Look Very Different


People pay a lot of attention to the color of a anole’s dewlap, but it’s often forgotten that the perceived color of the dewlap is not just a function of the light that reflects off of it, but also the light that at least sometimes shines through it!

These are two views of the brown anole taken minutes apart from opposite sides of the tree (the lizard was in the same spot, the photographer (me) moved.

For more on this topic, see what Manuel Leal had to say a while back on Chipojolab.

Walking, Talking Green Anole Stars at Wild Amelia Nature Festival


Ms. Ann-Ole thanks local herpetologists. From the Wild Amelia Facebook Page: Many thanks to herpetologists Mark Beshel (far left) and Caleb Bress (far right) of the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens for their entertaining and informative presentation on the green anole at the last of the Wild Nites this Festival year. Who knew the green anole could be sooo much fun? Thanks also to our own Ms-Ann-ole! Photo--Scott Moore

Ms. Ann-Ole thanks local herpetologists. From the Wild Amelia Facebook Page: Many thanks to herpetologists Mark Beshel (far left) and Caleb Bress (far right) of the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens for their entertaining and informative presentation on the green anole at the last of the Wild Nites this Festival year. Who knew the green anole could be sooo much fun? Thanks also to our own Ms-Ann-ole! Photo–Scott Moore

The just completed Wild Amelia Nature Festival this year featured the green anole as its mascot. AA‘s friend, anole author Karen Cusick, attended and filed this report:

“The Wild Amelia Facebook page has photos and some info on a lot of the activities–releasing sea turtles, ecotours on foot, by kayak, and by segway, learning about bats with the Bat Lady, sunrise yoga on the beach, etc., so I hope that helped.

Although the green anole was the Critter of the Year, the main things specifically related to green anoles were: the green anole presentation by the people from the zoo (along with the person in the anole suit); a couple of booths at the expo that featured some pictures and books about anoles and other lizards; the kids’ activity where they got prizes for going around answering questions about anoles; and the festival tee shirts with the anole logo. I noticed that the person in the anole costume was also on hand to congratulate two children for becoming Seashore Junior Naturalists.”

Karen also nabbed two photography awards for the photos below. Congratulations, Karen!

Award-winning photo by Karen Cusick. First place in “Other Fauna” category for non-professional photographers.

Another award-winning photo by Karen Cusick. First place in “Bird” category

Another Three-Legged Lizard

sagrei abaco 2015 island 5(k25)

Here’s yet another three-legged lizard. This is a male brown anole (Anolis sagrei) from Abaco, Bahamas  Despite missing most of its right leg (yes, the image is reversed), the little guy was fat and sassy and got around just fine. When he was let go, he even crouched down as if about to jump, before thinking better of it.

We’ve had plenty of previous postings on these three-leggers [for the full list, type “three-legged lizard” into the search bar on the right]. Always looking for more examples!


New Species of Anole from Panama


elcope dewlap

Introducing Anolis elcopeensis. (B) is a female; the rest are males.

In their new paper in Amphibian & Reptile Conservation, Poe and colleagues note that thirteen new species of Anolis have been described from Panama since 2007, bringing that country’s total to 44. They now raise those numbers to 15 and 45.

The first thing you need to know about Anolis elcopeensis is how to pronounce it. It’s named after the park formerly known as El Cope National Park in Panama, so it’s el-coh-pay-en-sis (the park now goes by the name Parque Nacional G. D. Omar Torrijos H.).

The second thing you need to know is that A. elcopeensis is a very close relative of A. fuscoauratus, a species widely-distributed throughout Amazonia and elsewhere in South America. Anolis elcopeensis differs from A. fuscoauratus and related species by its orange dewlap and small size (maximum: 45 mm snout-vent length). Mitochondrial DNA differences support its designation as a distinct species.

With the recognition of A. elcopeensis, that brings us to 399 Anolis species (according to a search on the Reptile Database)! Woo-hoo! And I suspect there are more soon to come. Indeed, Poe et al. suggest that A. fuscoauratus may be a complex of many cryptic species. Stay tuned!


We describe Anolis elcopeensis, a new species of anole lizard from low to moderate elevations of the Pacific slope of the Cordillera Central of central Panama. Anolis elcopeensis is a close relative of and resembles the Amazonian species A. fuscoauratus but differs from it and similar species mainly in body size, male dewlap color, and mitochondrial DNA. We estimate the phylogenetic position of the new species relative to all species of Anolis, and analyze variation in the mitochondrial COI gene among some populations of the new species. We also discuss the mythical presence of Anolis fuscoauratus in Panama, document the possible occurrence of A. maculiventris in Panama, and present preliminary evidence for multiple cryptic fuscoauratus-like species in eastern Panama.

Lizard Brain Research in the Johnson Lab

Michele Johnson’s Lab at Trinity University seems to have brains on the brain. Jake Stercula recently reported on his studies on how the different preferred temperatures of Puerto Rican anoles species affects their brains. That is, how do brains of different species handle being at different temperatures? Read all about his research on “how temperature affects lizard brain cells.”

Meanwhile, Johnson lab member Maria Jaramillo is studying how lizard brains process different images. She’s showing anoles videos of another lizard displaying or of a leaf and investigating how brain activity differs.

What You Can Learn from Watching a Lizard for a Long Time

Photo by Ambika Kamath

Behavioral research is often reduced to a large set of data points, necessary of course for statistical analysis. But sometimes what gets lost is actual knowledge of what animals do in their natural habitats. There’s no substitute for just watching an animal over the course of a day or  a week. Often what you’ll see is that animals are not little automatons, repetitively undertaking particular actions in accord (or not) with our theories. Rather, they have lives where they do all kinds of idiosyncratic behaviors, the sort of quirky detail that often get lost in high-falutin’ analyses of behavior. Ambika Kamath demonstrated just this in her recent post, “A Week in the Life of U131.” Here’s the first paragraph. You’ll have to go to her website to read the rest:

When you’re collecting data on the behaviour of individual animals over time, as I am this summer, your observations sometimes feel less like a collection of numbers and more like a collection of personal narratives. Of course, the data are both numbers and narratives, and when it comes time to analyze this collection of datapoints and understand the patterns that emerge from it, the numbers will be all that matter. But in the meanwhile, before I can look the bigger picture, I enjoy considering the individual narratives. And this week, I encountered a lizard whose story illustrates why it’s worth considering these narratives at all.

Anole Annals Wants You…to Write a Post!

The goal of Anole Annals is to be the clearinghouse for all things Anolis, the place that the anole community turns to for the exchange of information or ideas. To do so, we welcome–no, heartily encourage–contributions from anyone and everyone.

Who can post? Anyone who has something to say about the biology, natural history, or amazing-ness of anoles (well, within reason–we leave anole husbandry and sales issues to other websites). And fear not–you’ll have an audience. Anole Annals is now routinely visited by 600-1000 readers a day. That sounds like a broader impact to me!

Anole Annals is a good place to let the anole community know what you’re working on, like Ambika Kamath’s recent overview of her fascinating work on anole social behavior. And, it’s a great way to spread word of your recently published work–why not provide a short precis or tell the backstory of how the paper came to be, like Liam Revell recently did? It’s a great way of giving people the short story of what you’ve done and get them interested in reading the whole paper.

If you are fortunate to live in an anole-inhabited region, tell us about your local species, like David Alfonso’s recent post on the anoles of Colombia. And if you’ve observed something unusual, here’s a good place to report it, like Graham Reynolds note on twig anoles using mangroves.

And it’s just a great place to ask a question, post a photo, or report an observation. Plus, announcements of relevant conferences or personal milestones, such as newly-minted Ph.D.s, are always appropriate.

Posting is easy, and really doesn’t take much time. More than 100 scientists and anole enthusiasts have written posts–you should too! And if you’ve done so before, you’re overdue for another one. Don’t overthink it–just post today!