A kindergartener at Riverside Elementary found this juvenile Anolis carolinensis in a bundle of lettuce that had been stored in the family refrigerator for three days. Although initially listless, the animal recovered quickly and now seems to be doing just fine living with her reptile enthusiast science teacher. The new class pet was named Green Fruit Loop and will hopefully serve as an anole ambassador at Riverside for years to come.
Readers of this blog are well aware of autotomy in lizards – self-amputation of the tail – that usually occurs as a result of sub-lethal predation. Readers of this blog are also familiar with the fascinating ability of many lizards to regenerate new tails post-autotomy. Lizards are the closest relatives to humans that can regenerate a fully functional appendage in the adult stage, and understanding the molecular basis of this process can shed light on the latent regenerative capacities in mammals. A new paper published this week in PLOS ONE (Hutchins et al. 2014) provides the first insights into the genetic mechanisms of lizard tail regeneration, using Anolis carolinensis as a model. Via the high-throughput sequencing of RNA from regenerating green anole tails, and the mapping of these sequences to the A. carolinensis genome, the authors describe the genes that are expressed during the regeneration process, shedding light on potential targets for future human therapies.
Disclaimer: I am not an author on the paper, although I do work in the Kusumi Lab with the authors.
While the ability to regenerate a fully functional appendage in the adult phase is likely a deeply homologous trait across animals, it is not uniformly conserved across vertebrates. Fish, as in the zebrafish model (Gemberling et al. 2013), and amphibians, as in the salamander models (Knapp et al. 2013) can regenerate both limbs and tails, suggesting that while the ancestral vertebrate was equipped with this ability, it seems mammals have during their evolution somehow lost it. Evolutionary hypotheses explaining exactly why some taxa lose the ability to regenerate adult appendages are far and wide, ranging from the stochastic to ecologically-specific fitness trade-offs (reviewed in Bely and Nyberg 2010).
But what are the proximate (i.e. genetic) reasons as to why lizards remain strong regenerators while mammals are left holding the short end of the regeneration stick? Continue reading The Genetics of Anolis Lizard Tail Regeneration: (Re)generating Major Internet Buzz
During the last five years, herpetologists at the Museo de Zoología QCAZ, Pontificia Universidad Católica del Ecuador (PUCE), have discovered and described 35 new species of amphibians and reptiles, some of which are anoles. BBC news recently posted a photographic article on this work, which was funded by the Ecuadorian government and PUCE. Anolis otongae and A. podocarpus are some of the recently discovered species featured in that article.
The Museo de Zoología QCAZ also maintains ReptiliaWebEcuador, a website on Ecuadorian reptiles with tons of information in Spanish, including pictures, maps, free downloads, and more. Visit us if you want to know more about Ecuadorian anoles.
Research that is revealing the surprising cognitive abilities of reptiles is featured in the Science Times in tomorrow’s (Nov. 19) New York Times. And not surprising to AA readers, the work of Manuel Leal on the problem-solving ability of Anolis evermanni is prominently reviewed, a topic we have discussed several times in these pages [1,2]. The article contains a nice discussion of Leal’s work, as well as several photographs and a brief appearance (of lizard, not Leal) in the accompanying video (fast forward to the 2:20 mark).
The article also discusses research on tortoises showing they can work their way through mazes, using several different approaches, to find food, and on monitor lizards that can figure out how to open a door on a tube to access mice within.
If you work on Anolis lizards, there’s a good chance you’ve been asked about the recent rediscovery of the long-thought-to-be-extinct “Pinocchio Anole” within the last week. As Anole Annals reported on October 7, this story has hit the big time. After being featured on the Huffington Post, the tale of this rediscovery went viral, receiving extensive news coverage worldwide.
The catch, as most Anole Annals readers are doubtless aware, is that the Pinocchio Anole wasn’t just recently rediscovered. It was rediscovered in 2005, and has since been the subject of field studies resulting in no fewer than five published works (six if you count “Finding Anolis proboscis,” Steve Poe’s 2010 Anolis Newsletter article about finding Anolis proboscis).
What gives? How can the central claim of such a major scientific news item be fundamentally incorrect?
I propose the following hypothesis: This story evolved to its current state by good old-fashioned natural selection. I think that an initially accurate web story was repeatedly and imperfectly replicated, and that as the story was picked up by increasingly larger news outlets, important details were lost or altered during transcription (perhaps selectively, since discovery makes good copy), resulting in the evolution of an incorrect news item.
If I have things right (it’s possible I don’t know all the details), the story started with an informational advertisement from the ecotourism company Destination Ecuador.
If you read that article, it’s pretty accurate with the potential exception of a single use of the word “re-discovery” to describe the event during which the Tropical Herping team found Anolis proboscis. The use of that word is admittedly a little strange and perhaps a bit unwise, but the article makes it very clear that the actual rediscovery of the species took place in 2005, and describes a successful scientific expedition to study the species in the wild in 2010. To me the point of this article is “with our ecotourism company, you can have a chance to travel with experts to see a weird, rare, recently-rediscovered lizard species.”
Next comes an article by Douglas Main on livescience.com, which appears to be the original source of the viral news item. If you read the LiveScience article, it’s worded in a way that tells a narrative of very recent rediscovery (which is not really true) without ever explicitly stating it. Continue reading The “Rediscovery” Of Anolis Proboscis, And The Evolution Of A Viral Internet News Story
Ray Huey has been a pioneer in the field of physiological ecology and evolution. Building on the work of Ruibal, Rand,Williams and others (as he always stresses), Ray was instrumental in making anoles a model for understanding thermal biology, integrating behavior, physiology, evolution and, most recently, conservation biology. And then there’s Ray’s other side. Who else could get away with using a Rolling Stone‘s album in the title of a paper?
A symposium in Ray’s honor will be held in Seattle on Friday, October 4th and is open to anyone, but attendance is limited, so register today. All the details are available on the fest’s website. Whether you attend or not, check out the Hueyblog and add your own tributes and reminiscences.
Recently, a chapter of Ken Miyata’s thesis on the ecology of Ecuadorian anoles was published in the Bulletin of the Museum of Comparative Zoology, along with remembrances of Ken–who died 30 years ago–by Jerry Coyne, Chuck Crumly, Ray Huey, Eric Larson, Greg Mayer, and B Wu.
David Wake knew Ken Miyata, too, and here’s what he had to say: “Ken did an undergraduate honor’s thesis with me in MVZ. He was far ahead of his time — we had no digital database but he wanted to do detailed mapping of some species so he selected Batrachoseps attenuatus and then laboriously went through the large MVZ collection. He made a pin for each locality and on the pin recorded the MVZ catalogue number (or first in a series in the case of multiple specimens). Then he researched the exact locality, often going to field notes. The result is still on the wall outside my office! From time to time someone suggests taking it down, but it has now gained the status of historical document! And it is a constant reminder to me of Ken and his enthusiasms and diligence.”
La Jornada en Linea just published an article on a new Mexican amber anole with information provided by paleontologist Francisco Riquelme. As discussed previously in AA‘s pages, this is only the second anole in amber from anywhere other than the Dominican Republic, the first, Anolis electrum, having been described by Skip Lazell in 1965. That specimen is very incomplete such that little can be said about its taxonomy or lifestyle. It will be interesting to learn more about this one.
I’m told that in the old days, all kinds of critters would show up in fruit shipments from tropical regions, but now with pesticides and processing, it’s much rarer. The BBC reports the story of one such recent event:
The reptile, which was about 8ins (20cm) long, was found at Riverford Organic Farms, in Buckfastleigh.
Staff said it was the first lizard they had found since starting to import bananas from the Dominican Republic about a decade ago.
The anolis lizard, which feeds on insects, was sent to Paignton Zoo and is expected to be added to its collection.
Amanda Whittington, from the farm, said the animal had been stored in a container since it was found on Thursday.
She said: “A woman was packing bananas into our fruit boxes and out it popped. It gave her a bit of a shock.
“We then caught it and asked Paignton Zoo what to do.
“It then escaped into the customer services department, but we then managed to catch it again and fed it some crickets.”
‘Certainly a survivor’
She said the bananas took a couple of weeks to transport by boat from the Dominican Republic.
Reptile keeper Rod Keen said: “There are hundreds of species of anolis lizard, which are related to iguanas.
“It is certainly a survivor, as it’s come thousands of miles in various methods of transport and spent time in cool rooms,” a spokesperson added.
The reptile will spend a standard six month period in quarantine at the zoo, and will probably be released into one of the tropical houses.
The doyenne of Brazilian herpetology, Paulo Vanzolini died two days ago at an age of 89. Renowned for his herpetological expertise, Vanzolini was even more famous for his samba compositions. Indeed, his Wikipedia page focuses more on his music career and discography than his zoological contributions, an oversight that perhaps Wikipedia-savvy AA readers can rectify.
With regard to anoles, Vanzolini made two important contributions in collaboration with Ernest Williams. The first was their monographic treatment of variation in the mostly-Amazonian Anolis chrysolepis species complex, a group that was recently revised by D’Angiolella et al. This monograph was notable not only for its detailed study of geographic variation, but also for its suggestion that speciation may be prompted by climatic cycles that lead to contraction of populations into isolated, allopatric pockets of suitable habitat. This hypothesis was suggested simultaneously and independently of the same suggestion for Amazonian birds by Haffer and led to the influential and much-debated Pleistocene Refugia hypothesis, discussed previously in AA‘s pages.
Vanzolini and Williams had a follow-up paper that is less well-known, but equally insightful and ahead of its time. In this paper, the authors argued that such refuges might be particularly important foci of adaptive evolution and speciation when they disappear entirely. The argument is that populations might be trapped in refuges and as the habitat continues to deteriorate over time, the populations might have no choice but to adapt or perish. In this way, arguing from the chrysolepis complex as well as from other lizards, dry forest or even grassland species might evolve from wet forest ancestors. This hypothesis could explain the existence of closely-related species occupying very different habitats–the antithesis of what is now known as phylogenetic niche conservatism–and even might explain the parapatric distribution of close relatives if the new species expanded its range (see previous post for more discussion). This idea was published in Papéis Avulsos de Zoologia in 1981 .(download it here) and deserves more attention than it has received.
Moments ago, AA stalwart Yoel Stuart successfully defended his Ph.D. dissertation, entitled Character Displacement and Community Assembly in Anolis Lizards. The four chapters include work on species turnover in island and mainland anoles and eleutherodactylid frogs, which was published last year in Proceedings of the Royal Society of London; a review of the evidence for character displacement, just out in Trends in Ecology and Evolution; and a study on rapid evolution of character displacement, which has been discussed previously in these pages.
Yoel now moves on to his postdoctoral work in Dan Bolnick‘s lab at the University of Texas in Austin, where he will be studying evolutionary divergence in the Canadian aquatic anole, Gasterosteus aculeatus. Congratulations and good luck, Yoel!
On February 17th, CBS Sunday Morning’s wonderful Nature Moment featured footage of brown anoles…but called them geckos. After we pointed this out, they took down the video from their website, but now it’s up on Youtube. You still have to watch the commercial first, though.
Two days ago, Hobart Smith died at the age of 100. Hobart was among the most prolific herpetologists of all time, with more than 1,500 publications to his name. Included among his publications are several classic monographs such as the Handbook of Lizards (1946) and the Checklist and Key to Amphibians of Mexico (1948). Hobart is the namesake for numerous species of reptiles and amphibians, including Anolis hobartsmithi, an endangered species endemic to the highlands of Chiapas, Mexico. May he rest in peace.
“Try to learn something about everything and everything about something.” –Thomas Henry Huxley
These are lofty words from one the world’s most impressive autodidacts. Thomas Huxley taught himself German and Greek by candlelight, endured years in crowded quarters with teenage midshipmen aboard the HMS Rattlesnake just to be able to learn about jellyfish, and taught himself comparative anatomy though countless hours behind a microscope. He may be most famously known as one the most important champions of evolution, but to me he is equally memorable for his firm belief in equal access to knowledge.
Were he alive today, I believe that Thomas Huxley would be a huge supporter of the Encyclopedia of Life (EOL). The EOL takes self-learning to the next level by providing unprecedented access to species information that is readable, comprehensive, and professionally curated. Since 2007, this open-access web portal has been cataloging the world’s biodiversity. Yes, you read correctly. EOL wants nothing less than to create informative pages for all of the world’s species. Last count, that was somewhere around 8.7 million species, but I wouldn’t be surprised if that number were much, much higher. In May 2012, the EOL hit one million species pages, which gives a sense of how successful the mission has been, and also how far they have to go.
Good news and bad news from the good folks at CBS today. Those of you who are Sunday morning TV junkies will know that one of the pearls of the morning is the nature segment–combining beautiful imagery and sound–that comes near the end of the CBS Sunday Morning show. And what was featured this morning? Brown anoles from Tampa, males displaying, females looking regal in their diamondbacks–it was the best Sunday morning nature segment ever…except that the anoles were referred to as geckos!!! Doh! I wonder how long it will take CBS to right this injustice? You can watch the segment at this link, but you have to watch a commercial first. If anyone sees this pop up on Youtube, please let us know and we’ll link straight to it.
Update: See the nice note from the producer at CBS below. Unfortunately, they appear to have taken down the segment from their website.
Herbert C. Dessauer, whose 1981 report with Dan Shochat on “Comparative immunological study of albumins of Anolis lizards of the Caribbean islands” was among the very first attempts to reconstruct molecular phylogenetic relationships across Anolis, died earlier this month after a brief illnes. For most of his career, Dessauer was professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at LSU’s Medical Center, where he frequently collaborated with scientists at LSU’s Museum of Natural History. In addition to his 1981 classic, Dessauer was an author on numerous reports on molecular genetics of Anolis during the 1970s, often in collaboration with Dan Shochat and George Gorman. These three scientists, together with a handful of others, provided the foundation for modern molecular genetic studies of anoles. The significance of Dessauer’s contributions to anole biology are particularly noteworthy because he built his distinguished career working primarily with other systems. Indeed, Dessauer’s work with anoles doesn’t even warrant mention in a list of his accomplishments that appears in a historical perspective on his career by fellow herpetologists Ernest Liner and Charles Cole.
Nevertheless, Shochat and Dessauer’s results had a range of important implications for anole systematists; for example, they were among the first to convincingly reject reciprocal monophyly of the alpha and beta series diagnosed previously by Etheridge on the basis of morphological variation (and later diagnosed as distinct genera by Savage). Shochat and Dessauer’s results were a topic of debate in the anole phylogenetics community since before they were even published, and featured prominently in the Third Anolis Newsletter from 1977, where Shochat discussed preliminary results and Ernest Williams critiqued this work. Although Willams appreciated Shochat and Dessauer’s efforts, and understood the potential vale of the data they were obtaining, he ultimately concluded by asking”What does the new evidence [from Shochat and Dessauer] explain that the old Etheridgean scheme did not?” and answering “very little” (emphasis in original). In hindsight, I think his critique was unfair. The molecular genetic evidence they provided proved very convincing to many anole biologists of the day and many of the relationships they recovered remain well-supported, including some groups that conflicted with those recovered by previous morphological analyses and favored by Williams in the 1970s.
As I’ve mentioned previously, some biographers believe that Dessauer’s contributions to anole biology barely deserve mention among all of his other accomplishments. In searching the Google Books database for more information on Dessauer’s contributions, you can get sense for the extent of his pioneering influence. In a remembrance of the famous bird systematist Charles Sibley, Alan Brush places Dessauer alongside Sibley and the primate systematist Morris Goodman as the founders of molecular systematics. In his book Parasites and Infectious Disease: Discovery by Serendipity and Otherwise, Gerald Desch relates stories of Dessauer’s early days implementing molecular genetic analyses and teaching to others to do similar work. I didn’t know Herb Dessauer, but given such anecdotes and the remarkable list of collaborative studies he published, it seems clear that he was not only a pioneer, but also a leader, who inspired others and drove them to advance science in new and interesting ways.
In spite of his many accomplishments, I hope that, given how much Dessauer’s work on anoles influenced myself and other anole biologists, that we see it mentioned in the scientific obituaries that are sure to appear in the coming months.
Today’s New York Times featured an article on incredible journeys by lost cats, where they cover immense distances to return to their homes. The article is based on a recent story of Holly, who trekked 200 miles from the Daytona Speedway, where she had become separated from her mobile home at an RV park, to her residence in West Palm Beach. This may seem a bit off-topic for Anole Annals and, indeed, it mostly is, but midway through, the article asks how a pampered housecat could be prepared for a life in the Florida wilds, noting ” after all, she spent most of her life as an indoor cat, except for occasionally running outside to chase lizards.” No doubt if she’s chasing lizards around a house in West Palm, those lizards are almost surely brown anoles, with a few green thrown in. Housecat predation on anoles (and other animals, particularly birds) is a serious matter, but at least it leads to the occasional heartwarming story. Incidentally, the article also refers to the KittyCam project we posted on a while back, in which researchers put little video cameras around the neck of housecats to see where they went, and found all kinds of unexpected surprises, including a couple of two-timing housecats with a second home on the side.
As many readers have likely seen in recent news, original scientific research at Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History is poised to take a major blow with the announcement that the museum is refocusing its scientific mission and will soon be scaling back its research activities. The Field is in serious financial trouble. In debt for the last decade and for years unable to balance its books, the institution has reached its borrowing limit and must find a way to resolve a 5 million dollar imbalance in its annual budget. For leadership through this growing crisis, the museum hired a new president and CEO, Richard Lariviere, who began his post in October. Last week, Lariviere and the museum’s board of trustees offered the first glimpse of their proposed solution: a 5 million dollar cut in annual operations expenditures, 3 million of which is to be shouldered by the museum’s science departments. Lariviere has stated that the Field plans to restructure its scientific mission, and that deep cuts in research staff – including the museum’s roster of tenured curators – could be expected. This is a scary prospect for the dozens of professional scientists who have built their careers at the museum, and very sad news for folks who, like me, took some of the first steps of their scientific careers there (I worked as a research assistant in the Division of Amphibians and Reptiles for a year after college; this experience shaped my decision to go to grad school, and led me to study lizard evolution!).
For the most part, the details of these upcoming changes have not been resolved, and will be the subject of internal deliberations in early 2013. Nonetheless, there are reasons for serious concern about the future of research at the Field. First, the museum is scrapping its four current research departments (Anthropology, Botany, Geology, and Zoology) in favor of a much leaner “Science and Education” department. In addition, a committee is currently taking preparatory legal steps necessary to lay off tenured curators, an action that is impossible under normal circumstances (to get this done, the museum must declare a state of financial exigency). These actions Continue reading Research To Suffer As Chicago’s Field Museum Of Natural History Redefines Its Mission
Manuel Leal’s fascinating studies showing that anoles have more going on than anyone would have expected is featured in a new Canadian TV documentary. The Nature of Things is a well known series hosted by the inimitable David Suzuki. This episode on the cognitive abilities is wide-ranging and has all the usual suspects (chimps, crows, etc.)…and anoles! Not to mention Manuel Leal. Unfortunately, the series can only be accessed online if you’re in Canada, but the rest of us can see a snippet on the post on Chipojolab, as well as a “behind-the-scenes” discussion of the film crew’s visit to Leal’s lab.