Category Archives: Education and Anoles

SICB 2018: Anoles and Undergrads: A New Kind of Science Lab

This post was written by Brittney Ivanov, research technician in the Johnson Lab.


PhD candidate, Abby Beatty, from Auburn University presented a poster entitled Integrating research into the classroom: causal effects of IGF1 and IGF2 on growth in the brown anole. The poster focused on an enhanced method of teaching science, particularly labs. The program, called C.U.R.E (Course-based Undergraduate Research Experience), allows students to experience teaching labs in a way that is more authentic and typical of the research experiences of graduate students. In most science labs, students are provided with different protocols and methods as well as a predetermined set of goals and results that explains how the experiment should turn out. The teaching method Abby proposed gives students the opportunity to learn from their failed attempts, before receiving the correct answers.

The course lasted for 2 semesters, consisted of undergraduate and graduate students, and began with a pre-survey that assessed student’s current knowledge as well as their ability in certain cognitive skills: analyzing, applying, creativity, evaluating, understanding, and memory. The students then chose a topic (related to Abby’s dissertation work) to be the focus of the labs. From this, they were able to develop methods and design their labs.

Specifically, the first semester class cloned and expressed IGF1 and IGF2 (insulin-like growth factors) using a bacterial vector. Similarly, the second semester class cloned IGFBP2. Abby then used these proteins to optimize methods for studying the growth rate of eggs and hatchling brown anoles. Hatchlings were monitored for 10 weeks following an injection with either IGF1, IGF2, or vehicle (NaCl + 15% Gelatin). Two trials were performed on the hatchlings and one on the eggs. In the first hatchling trial, IGF1 and IGF2 treatments had significantly higher death rates than control groups, but there was no association with body size. In the second trial, which used refined and updated methods, there was no significant effect on survival or body size, when compared to control groups. Finally, egg treatment did not correlate with survival or body size.

As the class completed each step in this process, they reviewed their work and if their methods were unsuccessful, discussed a better approach. Following completion of the course, the students received a post-survey assessing the same skills and knowledge as the pre-survey.

Abby found the class gained significantly in these skills, particularly receiving higher survey scores in the areas of creativity and understanding. She also found that the average score on the knowledge assessment was higher in the classes post-assessment survey than in the pre-assessment, indicating that the students may be gaining from this method of teaching. Control surveys from a class taught using a typical lab curriculum are not available, but there are plans to include this over the course of coming school semester.

These data, while still preliminary, highlight the benefit of implementing this kind of teaching strategy. When students are able to explore the process of asking and answering questions they generally become more engaged in their work and better prepared for more authentic research experiences.

ESA 2016: Using Citizen Science to Learn about Invasive Anoles

2016-08-09 08.00.41In one of the few anole talks here at the annual Ecology meeting in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, James Stroud presented on a project he conducted with the Fairchild Tropical Botanical GardenJason Kolbe, and others. Together, they organized a large citizen science project engaging middle-school aged students to collect distribution and abundance data about anoles in the Southern Miami region in a program they call “Lizards on the Loose.”

In this outreach project, James and colleagues had 101 schools participate in collecting data. Armed with a handy anole ID guide created by Jason Kolbe and a video by James explaining anole biology and species differences, students and teachers set out to conduct 15 minute visual surveys. On these surveys, they recorded how many animals they encountered, the species ID, and the approximate body size using a provided standardized collection protocol and entering data into a Google forms site.

The results were overwhelming: more than 1,000 students conducted a total of 1,356 surveys resulting in 12,000+ lizard observations! This project produced massive amounts of data on very short time frames. In general, distribution patterns fell as they were expected to, although some records certainly hint at some mis-identification (e.g. some A. cristatellus locations). Unsurprisingly, the least abundant lizards were those that were hardest to detect: the species typically found high in trees.

2016-08-09 08.11.43

While the resulting dataset is impressively large, James admits that there are data quality issues with collecting data in this manner and asked for input on how to improve data collection. Specifically, he suggested that in the future they would like to incorporate photographic and smartphone GPS information, perhaps via an app. Does anyone have any suggestions for James on implementing such an app or otherwise improving the design?

James emphasized that providing meaningful natural experiences with wildlife for kids is good for conservation, fosters an appreciation for nature and helps inspire the next generation of scientists. Many of our readers may find inspiration from the success of this program and we would love to hear about it if you implement similar types of citizen science projects with anoles!

Seeking Input for a Child-Friendly Research Project


In my science lab with my little green friend. This photo will actually be on the back cover of my upcoming book!

As a regular reader of Anole Annals and a subscriber to the Twitter feed, I am honored to have the opportunity to write this post. For those who might remember, I am the elementary school science teacher in Princeton, NJ who made international news (and a mention on Anole Annals) when one of my kindergarten students brought me a juvenile Anolis carolinensis that her mother found in a bundle of salad greens. I am happy to report that “Green Fruit Loop” is still doing well in a spacious terrarium, and I have considered the logistics of returning her to the wild once she’s fully grown. Of course, from what I’ve been reading about her place of origin (south Florida), I’ll have to make sure I find a spot with tall trees, to make sure she has refuge from Anolis sagrei.

Green Fruit Loop

I’ve gotten into the habit of referring to Green Fruit Loop as a “she,” but perhaps an anole specialist could make an accurate determination?

My students continue to be enthralled with our surprise classroom companion, and I have been considering ways to include these children in a scientific investigation on color change We have a second terrarium of adopted Anolis carolinensis (my momentary fame made me a magnet for unwanted pets), and even though I have told my students that anoles don’t assume specific colors to blend in with their backgrounds, this group was almost exclusively green when housed with plants, but since a fungal disease eliminated all vegetation over the winter, these anoles now remain perpetually brown among the rocks and woodwork.


Green Fruit Loop definitely doesn’t look green here!

These observations, which my students have used as evidence that Carolina anoles do, in fact, change color to camouflage (contrary to what their teacher tells them), have prompted me to consider a long-term study, in which several basking platforms will be painted different colors and anoles that use them will be photographed at multiple intervals per day. For example, one platform might be green, one brown, one white, and one black, and a camera on a timer will take photographs of each platform hourly. We could then compare these photographs over time, determine which individuals are exhibiting certain colors on certain platforms, and possibly draw conclusions from what we observe. I recently obtained a grant from the American Society of Plant Biologists to build two large habitats for tropical plants, so this would be an ideal location to house additional groups of anoles for this experiment to proceed.

If anybody has suggestions for the colors and materials that we might use for basking platforms (I am planning on four per habitat, each under its own light), as well as any possible modifications to this experiment for greater scientific merit, please feel free to comment on this post or write to me at Of course, animal welfare is always the highest priority in any of my educational projects, and my group of adopted anoles will never be housed with any field-collected specimens (like Green Fruit Loop) to minimize possible spread of parasites and disease.

Once this experiment gets going, please check in and see what my students are learning on Twitter @markeastburn or at my website Thank you for reading!

SICB 2015: Color and Stress in Green Anoles

Spencer Hudson presenting his poster.

Spencer Hudson presenting his poster at SICB.

When you tell someone that you study anoles, often one of the first questions they’ll ask is why these lizards change color. While it’s a complicated phenomenon, we do know that anole color can indicate both social dominance and stress. In a poster presented on Tuesday at SICB, Spencer Hudson, an undergraduate working with Travis Wilcoxen at Millikin University in Decatur, Illinois, considered whether habituation in green anoles can mediate the effects of social and handling stress (measured via fecal corticosterone, or CORT), and how stress is associated with color. Spencer found that in comparison to a control group, male lizards that experienced human handling and social interactions with other males had higher CORT levels, and they were more likely to turn brown during experimental trials. However, he did not find evidence that habituation lowered CORT or influenced lizard color. Spencer and his colleagues suggest that acute stress (experienced during human handling) and chronic stress (experienced over the course of the three-week experiment) may have different effects on lizard color.

Impressively, Spencer designed and conducted this experiment all within a one-semester undergraduate Animal Behavior class at Millikin!

New Lizard-y Website for Kids

If there are any children in your life that are interested in lizards (and what kids aren’t?!), you may want to check out a website my lab is developing:  This website is one of our outreach efforts to help make connections between schoolchildren (particularly around the fifth-grade age/reading level) and scientists.


We’re working to meet several goals with this website:

1.  To show children how science is done.  Too often, children (and adults) have misconceptions about the process of science.  So, our website aims to show that scientists work together in teams; that scientists use math, communication, and problem-solving skills; that scientists are a diverse group of people; and that science can be a lot of fun.

2. To make science accessible to students.  By writing about our ongoing research projects at the fifth-grade reading level, we hope to engage young children with the idea that they, too, can be scientists. The website also offers several options for website-users to engage with the scientists in my lab, including Club LizKids, an email listserve that connects with kids via more personal updates from the lab.

3. To provide resources for teachers to use lizards in their own classrooms.  Because science is tested for the first time in Texas in the fifth grade, in some cases science is not taught until the fifth grade.  We are working with local (San Antonio) fifth grade teachers to develop resources that help them to teach the Texas science standards using creative, engaging approaches – although the resources on the website are available to all!

We’d welcome your feedback on the site.  We aren’t drawing a lot of “comments” on the blog posts yet, but we do get a lot of hits, so people are finding us.  Hope you enjoy it!

Ecuadorian Anoles on BBC News


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.

New Education Films On Evolution Featuring Finches, Anoles And Darwin Released By Howard Hughes Medical Institute

The Howard Hughes Medical Institute is one of the wealthiest private foundations supporting scientific research in the world, with annual payouts exceeding $800 million. One branch of HHMI focuses on science education activities and is headed by renowned evolutionary developmental biologist Sean Carroll. Starting several years ago, HHMI has produced a series of short films on evolution, each focusing on a topic and usually focusing on a particular case study. Previous films in the “Making of the Fittest” series have centered on lava mice, sticklebacks, icefish and humans. Yesterday, HHMI announced the release of a new series, “The Origin of Species,” featuring films on Darwin and Wallace (a historical dramatization that marks a break from the approach of previous films), Darwin’s finches and…anoles! The films are short, approximately 15 minutes for birds and lizards, 30 for the big men. The HHMI press release explains more and provides short video clips, and the films themselves can be watched here:

The Origin of Species: The Making of a Theory

Video Clip

The Origin of Species: The Beak of the Finch

Video Clip

The Origin of Species: Lizards in an Evolutionary Tree

Video Clip

The press release notes that the films are only part of the educational initiative, complemented by a variety of teaching tools:

“HHMI’s Educational Resources Group has developed an extensive set of teaching materials that will help teachers use the films. All the resources are freely available on the website. “The films’ contents are built upon through additional classroom discussion, activities, and further study. To maximize classroom impact, it is crucial to provide teachers with various supplements and media to support the use of the films in addressing key topics in the curriculum,” said Carroll. Carroll notes that to date, several million students have viewed previously released films and well over one-half million teacher supplements have been distributed or downloaded.”

Stay tuned for the release of materials for these films, which currently are in production and should be ready by early next year. More generally, the films are readily downloadable from the HHMI website and are distributed as DVDs.

Seeking Photographs Of Ecomorphs

sheplani alternate1

Photo of Anolis sheplani by Father Alejandro Sanchez.

Dear Anole Researchers,

I’m producing a film on how species form for the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. It focuses on anole evolution and features Jonathan Losos. They will give it away to high school teachers around the country and make it available for free download from their website.

To illustrate the concept of anole ecomorphs, we are seeking photographs of of major anole body types on Cuba, Puerto Rico, Jamaica, and Hispanola.

We are looking for images of the following species:

Trunk-ground: cybotes, cristatellus or gundlachi, lineatopus, sagrei

Canopy: evermanni, chlorocyanus, grahami (green ones would be best), porcatus

Grass-bush: pulchellus, semilineatus or olssoni, alutaceus or vanidicus

Twig: valencienni, angusticeps, occultus, placidus or sheplani or insolitus

To make the visual comparisons easy, we hope to find images of the anoles from roughly the same angle – a profile along the lines of the image in this post.

If you have any images that you would be willing to share, thanks for emailing me at

Many thanks!

Dan Levitt
Veriscope Pictures

Cybotoid Blitz On The Encyclopedia Of Life

“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.

Image courtesy of David M. Hillis, Derrick Zwickl, and Robin Gutell, University of Texas

Image courtesy of David M. Hillis, Derrick Zwickl, and Robin Gutell, University of Texas

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.

Continue reading Cybotoid Blitz On The Encyclopedia Of Life

What Would Have Happened If Darwin Had Discovered The Anoles Of The Greater Antilles Instead Of The Galapagos Finches?

Maybe the classic Darwin evolutionary tree would…

Anoles evolutionary tree in Darwin DayPrincipal image modified from Alföldi et al.

What do you think about the hypothetical case?


Suggested reading:

Darwin’s Lizards: like Galapagos’ finches, anoles of the Greater Antilles have proved to be eminently adaptable. By Jonathan B. Losos and Kevin de Queiroz.

The genome of the green anole lizard and a comparative analysis with birds and mammals. By Jessica Alföldi et al.

Lizards in an Evolutionary Tree. Ecology and Adaptive Radiation of Anoles. By Jonathan B. Losos.

It is time for a new classification of anoles (Squamata: Dactyloidae). By Kirsten E. Nicholson et al.

Pages about Darwin Day:

International Darwin Day Foundation

Darwin Day » British Humanist Association

Educational sources:

Anolis Lizards of the Greater Antilles: Using Phylogeny to Test Hypotheses. By Jennifer (Johnson) Collins.

Anolis Ecomorph Visualization App

This another post about Darwin Day:

Spend A Night At The Museum With Anolis Lizards

Darwin Day Herp Tour, Museum of Comparative Zoology, 2011

Attention Boston-area Anolophiles – This Friday, November 9th, the Harvard University Biological Sciences Society (HUBSS) is hosting its annual Night at the Museum event! This free and recurring event at the Harvard Museum of Natural History features plenty of tasty treats, exciting exhibits, and exclusive behind-the-scenes tours of the research collections in the Museum of Comparative Zoology. Although the event is sponsored and hosted by the undergraduate society, interested members of the public are welcome to participate.

As part of this event, I will be giving two free tours of the Herpetology collections. I love working for these events because I get to display my favorite pieces from our amazing collections, including enormous croc skulls, strange and rare reptiles, and, naturally, a dizzying array of anoles. Anoles will be featured prominently in my tours as I use them to illustrate the principles of convergent evolution and to talk about island biogeography. Visitors will get to participate in a team activity using Anolis specimens. If you’re in the area, how else would you rather spend a Friday night than learning about anoles?

Check out the HUBSS website for this event and I hope to see you there!

Local Trail Features Anole Outreach

While conducting field work in the Dominican Republic, we recently took a morning off to go for a hike to a nearby waterfall, the beautiful Salto de Jimenoa. I was surprised to find several educational signs about the forest posted along the trail, covering topics including land use history, geology, and, most importantly, flora and fauna. Nestled in a paragraph about reptiles and amphibians, it noted the following (in Spanish, English, French, and German, no less!): “The amphibians are represented by lizards and frogs… A good observer can see lizards of the Anolis species jumping from the trees or walking on the ground and birds can be appreciated.” While some of the biology might not have translated very well, it was good to see anoles getting the shout-out they deserve!

These anoles were featured on interpretive signage in the Dominican Republic.

Anolis marcanoi Now Live On The Encyclopedia of Life

There are lofty goals, and then there is the Encyclopedia of Life. In case you haven’t heard of it yet, the Encyclopedia of Life is an international initiative to provide free access to detailed information about all the world’s species. The Encyclopedia of Life, or EOL, has 180 content partners, information from nearly 1,000 collections, over 750,000 species pages and more than 600,000 species images. To date EOL has drawn over 5 million viewers from across the globe.

Two years ago I got to participate in this project by helping to write pages for Anolis species as part of a class project for Harvard’s Herpetology course. In all the unbridled enthusiasm and the sense of endless time that comes with being a young graduate student, I decided that doing a single species page would not be nearly as exciting as describing an entire clade of anoles. Because I knew I would be working extensively with the cybotoids, a clade composed of the trunk-ground anoles from Hispaniola that is so near and dear to my heart, I decided to write pages for the whole group. When I embarked on this journey my list included A. armouri, A. cybotes, A. haetianus, A. longitibialis, A. marcanoi, A. strahmi, A. shrevei, and A. whitemani.

Continue reading Anolis marcanoi Now Live On The Encyclopedia of Life

Lizards on the Fence: Book about anoles for kids

A couple of years ago I got interested in photographing the brown anoles in my yard in northeast Florida, where we have lots of anoles. I’m not a scientist–I’m a high school special education teacher–and I didn’t know much about anoles, so I began looking up information and learning about them. I ended up with lots of photos and information about anoles and I decided to put together a little book about anoles for kids. Kids in this area see anoles all the time, and I thought they’d be interested in knowing more about them.

I self-published “Lizards on the Fence” at Blurb and I’ve sold and given copies to other teachers, friends, and neighbors. People have told me that their kids or grandkids will take the book out in the yard and compare the photos to the anoles they see, identifying them as males or females, commenting on their dewlaps, and watching young anoles grow. The 10-year-old son of a staff member at my school told his mother, “Mom, this inspires me! Can I have a camera? I want to write a book too!” Maybe a future herpetologist there!

If anyone would like to see the book, there’s a good-sized preview at Blurb. Here is the link:

I was so happy to find Anole Annals with so much information about anoles! I’m considering going back and working on the book again, revising and adding more photos, so comments are very welcome.


Pure Amazement

As anole specialists we sometimes overlook how exciting our animals can be to other biologists and the general public. After returning to campus with a male Anolis equestris yesterday the people on my floor were amazed by this animal (granted they work on fruit flies). Photos were taken and shared with friends. While we would likely default to using cut and dry adjectives to describe most lizards, I think that the quote below demonstrates well the emotions that a non-scientist feels when observing a giant green lizard.

“OMFG! Is it just me or is that a freaking gorgeous animal? Look underneath it’s feet, the rubber part of the toes! aww. I cant get over it’s chin..Why do Lizards have that elongated loose neck…what is it called and is it used for digesting food? Your camera takes great photos. squishy and i wanna kissy.  :)
Ok I’ll stop”

Thanks to Didem Sarikaya for passing this along. Didem’s photo is below.

Macroevolutionary methods in R workshop in Santa Barbara, CA June 11-15, 2012

If you’ve read papers published over the last few years on Anolis diversification, you’ve likely noticed a common pattern: the papers present sophisticated analyses of macroevolutionary patterns that were conducted in R (for instance: 1, 2, and see this teaser for the promise of R with GIS data).  If you’ve contemplated how to introduce yourself to R and get over the initial hurdles of writing code for your own research, opportunity is-a-knock’n.

Co-organizer Luke Harmon invites you to apply to the 2012 Workshop on Comparative Methods in R today!

Over the last few years, Michael Alfaro and Luke Harmon have organized a wonderful workshop on macroevolutionary methods in the R programming language for statistical computing.  They’ve just released the application for this year’s course.  I had the privilege of attending last year and found it to be an enriching experience on several fronts.

Continue reading Macroevolutionary methods in R workshop in Santa Barbara, CA June 11-15, 2012

Anoles Taking Over the Minds of Our Youth

Previous contributors have discussed the use of Anolis as an educational tool at the K-12 level (see here and here). But what happens when teachers don’t take anoles to the students? The answer is quite simple: the kids bring the anoles to them! Alex C., a sixth grader who recently graduated from my brother’s fifth grade class in PA, just passed along a “Discovery Quest” presentation that he created for fun (and to learn, of course). The topic: Green Anoles! I think it’s safe to say that our favorite lizards have so effectively permeated mainstream culture that the recruitment of anole biologists should prove an easy task from here on out. We look forward to having you in the field in about a decade, Alex C. (and all you other future anole experts)!

Anyone else with stories of anole addictions beginning at a young age? These can be auto-biographical or about those you know!