Category Archives: Notes from the Field

Temporal Variation in Structural Microhabitat Use of Phelsuma Geckos in Mauritius

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I want to start by thanking Anole Annals for the offer to write a post not about anoles, but about a group of honorary anoles, Phelsuma geckos (Losos, pers. comm.). Our recent publication (Hagey et al. 2016) looked at how Phelsuma ornata, P. guimbeaui, and P. cepediana use their environment in Mauritius over the course of the day.

Understanding how species use their environments is a fundamental step to understanding how they’ve evolved and adapted. Extensive previous work has been collecting observations and quantifying the microhabitat use of anoles and other lizards. As we all know on this blog, Caribbean anoles can be organized into ecomorphs, species with convergent morphologies and microhabitat preferences. The microhabitat use patterns of these species are so critical that the names of the ecomorphs represent their habitat preferences. After quantifying the habitat preferences of a set of species, however, often little thought is then given to how this preference may vary seasonally or over the course of a day.

Back in 2002, Luke and Lisa Harmon collected observations of Phelsuma geckos on the island of Mauritius to investigate how these “pseudo-anoles” may be partitioning their microhabitat. They found that Phelsuma partition their habitat structurally, with species using palm or non-palm vegetation (Harmon et al. 2007). In addition, Luke and Lisa collected temporal information, observing the perches that Phelsuma use over the course of the day. With these data, we hypothesized that sympatric species would have complementary activity patterns, reducing the time in which species overlap using the same perches.

We did find that Phelsuma vary their microhabitats, moving to larger diameter and lower perches later in the day, but these changes don’t reduce microhabitat use overlap between sympatric species. Alternatively, species may be moving to track sunlight for thermoregulation, following prey, or avoiding predators. These temporal microhabitat changes are likely to be important for how Phelsuma interact with their environment. We therefore feel that temporal microhabitat and activity variation should be considered more often when quantifying a species’ microhabitat preferences, as it may be an important aspect of a species’ niche (see Pianka 1973; Schoener 1974).

Hagey, T. J., N. Cole, D. Davidson, A. Henricks, L. L. Harmon, and L. J. Harmon. 2016. Temporal Variation in Structural Microhabitat Use of Phelsuma Geckos in Mauritius. J Herpetol 50:102-107.
Harmon, L. J., L. L. Harmon, and C. G. Jones. 2007. Competition and community structure in diurnal arboreal geckos (genus Phelsuma) in the Indian Ocean. Oikos 116:1863-1878.
Pianka, E. R. 1973. The Structure of Lizard Communities. Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics 4:53-74.
Schoener, T. W. 1974. Resource Partitioning in Ecological Communities. Science 185:27-39.

Carrot Rock and the Endemic Anolis ernestwilliamsi

Carrot Rock, a small protrusion of British Virgin Island, links the southern end of Peter Island to the edge of the shelf constituting the Puerto Rico Bank. This <1.3 hectare, steeply sloped island is home to two endemic squamate species: the Carrot Rock Skink (Mabuya macleani) and Ernest Williams’ anole (Anolis ernestwilliamsi). This is a somewhat surprising situation, given the proximity of Carrot Rock to Peter Island (400m) and its recent connection to the latter by a breaking shoal (water depths are but 2-3 m between the two). Hence, separation of Carrot Rock was likely recent, occurring as early as the end of the Wisconsin Glaciation (~8000 yrs ago) or at nearly any point more recently, likely within the last 3000 years (suggested by Mayer and Lazell 2000).

Carrot Rock, British Virgin Islands. This 1.3 hectare island is steeply sloped, with an elevation of ~25 m asl and a very steep aspect on all sides. There are no landing areas and the island must be reached by swimming. Obtaining a beachhead and summiting require exertion and great care.

Carrot Rock, British Virgin Islands. This 1.3 hectare island is steeply sloped, with an elevation of ~25 m asl and a very steep aspect on all sides. There are no landing areas and the island must be reached by swimming. Obtaining a beachhead and summiting require exertion and great care.

Nevertheless, morphological distinction has resulted in the specific epithets for these lizard species. The Carrot Rock Skink was described by frequent AA contributors Greg Mayer and Skip Lazell (Mayer and Lazell 2000) based on unique coloration and color pattern. The species was recognized in Blair Hedges and Caitlin Conn’s tome on West Indian skinks (Hedges and Conn 2012)–indeed, they used the node subtending M. macleani and other Virgin Island species as a calibration point. Recent analysis (Pinto-Sánchez et al. 2015) has suggested this species (along with other Virgin Island species), is (are) minimally divergent from the widespread M. sloanii complex. As the species was described based on morphology and appears to exhibit little genetic variation owing to a recent separation, species delimitation based on molecular data will surely point to collapsing these species and hence this latter finding is unsurprising.

Carrot rock is dominated by seagrape (Cocoloba uvifera) and the vine Stigmophyllon periplocifolium, with two large branching Pilosocereus royenii cacti on the crown. The majority of the anoles occur on the windward slope, where a few Cocoloba are sheltered enough to grow to heights of 1-3 meters.

Carrot rock is dominated by seagrape (Cocoloba uvifera) and the vine Stigmophyllon periplocifolium, with two large branching Pilosocereus royenii cacti on the crown. The majority of the anoles occur on the windward slope, where a few Cocoloba are sheltered enough to grow to heights of 1-3 meters.

Anolis ernestwilliamsi is very much a close relative of the widespread A. cristatellus. The endemic species is notable (and specifically recognized) largely for its increased lamellae number, color pattern, and apparently larger body size (Lazell 1983). It was described, again, by Skip, who is likely one of the few of us to have visited the island (and certainly the most frequent visitor). This description was published in Ernest Williams’ festschrift (Rhodin and Miyata 1983), in which, by my count, A. ernestwilliamsi is one of four nominate species named in honor of Ernest. As with the Carrot Rock Skink, molecular evidence suggests that A. ernestwilliamsi is minimally, or perhaps not at all, distinct from the widespread relative (A. cristatellus). Mitochondrial genetic analyses (Strickland et al., in review) demonstrate that A. ernestwilliamsi is nearly identical to many Puerto Rico Bank A. cristatellus haplotypes, suggesting a very recent maternal common ancestor (not surprising). Nuclear DNA has not yet, to my knowledge, been studied, likely owing to a lack of suitable (or available) DNA samples from the island. Concomitantly, several recent studies have demonstrated rapid evolution of key morphological traits in both Anolis sagrei (Stuart el al. 2014) and A. cristatellus (Winchell et al. 2016), including lamellae number, in response to presumed shifts in selection associated with either competitor species (Stuart et al. 2014) or non-natural substrate use (Winchell et al. 2016).

Female Anolis ernestwilliamsi. In a 1.5 hour survey around 1200h I counted fewer than 12 females.

Female Anolis ernestwilliamsi. In a 1.5 hour survey around 1200h, I counted fewer than 12 females.

Turning back to Carrot Rock itself, we might suspect that selection differs on this small island, and that selection would act rapidly in the face of the (presumably; Lazell 2005) small effective population size. This shifting of phenotype, owing to either plasticity or underlying allelic shifts, represents the processes of genetic drift and selection acting on a small population. This is an expected scenario, but leads to the question of how we like to recognize lizard species. As I teach my Zoology students, and as we all know, this is a tricky question. Anolis ernestwilliamsi is phenotypically distinguishable from other populations of A. cristatellus (Lazell, 1983). Some (myself included) might argue that this limited morphological distinctiveness is insufficiently diagnostic of speciation given the lack of genetic distinctiveness and the overall degree of morphological variation in the species. Nonetheless, some (Dmi’el et al., 1997) have examined whether the population of A. ernestwilliamsi is behaviorally and physiologically adapted to an arid and exposed habitat, implying an adaptive evolutionary response resulting in phenotypic evolution despite very recent separation and genetic similarity. That these authors found a similar physiological response (evaporative water loss rates) and that Carrot Rock is really not ecologically different from Peter Island (or most of the coastal portions of the BVI), further support the idea that the population is not terribly distinct.

Male Anolis ernestwilliamsi. In a 1.5 hour survey around 1200h I counted only 3 adult males.

Male Anolis ernestwilliamsi. In a 1.5 hour survey around 1200h, I counted only 3 adult males.

With all of this in mind, and having recently been to Carrot Rock, I remain skeptical regarding the prospects for continued recognition of A. ernestwilliamsi, despite the desire to see Ernest continue to have an Anolis namesake. Nevertheless, this should not (and indeed, didn’t/doesn’t) diminish the joy of seeing this population grasp tenaciously to existence on this speck of beautiful land.

 

 

References
Dmi’el et al., 1997. Biotropica 29:111-116.
Hedges, S.B. and C. Conn. 2012. Zootaxa 3288
Lazell, J. 1983. In: Rhodin and Miyata.
Lazell, J. 2005. Island: fact and Theory in Nature. University of California Press.
Mayer, G.C. and J. Lazell. 2000. Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington 113:871-886.
Pinto-Sánchez N.R., et al. 2015. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 93:188-211.
Rhodin, A.G.J. and K. Miyata. 1983. Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard University.
Stuart, Y.E., et al. 2014. Science 346:463-466.
Winchell, K.M., et al. 2016. Evolution 70:1009-1022.
[disclosure, I am an author on some of the papers mentioned in this article]

Notes from the Field: Another Successful Bahamian Adventure

AbacoI just got back from a trip to the Bahamas with Losos lab post-docs Anthony Geneva and Alexis Harrison, accompanied by expert lizard catchers Inbar Maayan and Sofia Prado-Irwin (Harvard graduate student). We parted ways for the first few days of the quick trip, with Anthony and Sofia headed to Bimini and Alexis, Inbar, and myself on Abaco. Read more about the Bimini trip in Sofia’s recent post.

Deck at the Friends for the Environment Kenyon Center field station

Friends for the Environment Kenyon Center field station

On Abaco, we stayed at the brand new Friends of the Environment Kenyon Center. We were really impressed by the great accommodations of this field station. The station was sustainably built and had all the modern amenities we could wish for. The field lab was large and equipped with microscopes and plenty of counter space. We were equally impressed by the staff and their outreach efforts. The Friends for the Environment does a fantastic job providing nature education to local kids from age 3 through college! Their ambitious organization seeks to provide high-quality and low-cost facilities for visiting scientists and to provide outreach and education to the local community. We spoke with the coordinators of the organization who told us that any time researchers are looking for extra hands in the field they are happy to arrange local students to assist. We strongly encourage others traveling to Abaco to stay here!

In the end we will conserve only what we love, we will love only what we understand, and we will understand only what we are taught.” – Baba Dioum (posted at the Friends for the Environment)

Our main goal on this trip was to capture Anolis sagrei to continue ongoing research into the amazing diversity among islands in this species. We were immediately struck by how much smaller the Anolis sagrei on Abaco were compared to those on the other islands we have been to. I was also struck by how many A. sagrei used the ground. I normally study Anolis cristatellus, and although they are the same ecomorph, I rarely see A. cristatellus on the ground. I also don’t recall seeing A. sagrei frequently on the ground on Bimini or Eleuthera. So observing these lizards, particularly the females, on the ground at such a high frequency (they literally scattered as I walked!) was very surprising. Is this common on other islands with A. sagrei and I just haven’t noticed before?

As with any good field trip, we also encountered a great diversity of herps. Although the only native anole to Abaco is  A. sagrei (according to Powell and Henderson 2012), we also saw plenty of Anolis distichus and a few Anolis smaragdinus. We also saw the invasive Cuban tree frog (Osteopilus septentrionalis), the native Eleutherodactylus planirostris, and plenty of curly-tails (Leiocephalus carinatus). No live snakes to report, although we did come across a couple of roadkill Cubophis.

Although we found no Sphaerodactylus, we did find plenty of non-native Hemidactylus. Interestingly, Hemidactylus is not listed in Powell and Henderson’s (2012) list of West Indian amphibians and reptiles for Abaco. Can anyone ID this species (the photos are of two individuals) and tell me if this has been reported before for Abaco? Obviously Hemidactylus are widespread in the Caribbean, but I was surprised to see it absent from the species list for many of the Bahamas islands.

Continue reading Notes from the Field: Another Successful Bahamian Adventure

Herpetological Field Weekend in Bimini

I recently accompanied postdoc Anthony Geneva on a collecting trip to the small Bahamian island of Bimini for the shortest field excursion I’ve ever been on – four days in total. We were there to collect animals for a breeding colony, and luckily for us, the abundance of anoles on this tiny island is unbelievable. There are four species of Anolis present, each one representing a different ecomorph. Unsurprisingly, the brown anole A. sagrei is by far the most common, but we also saw our fair share of trunk-crown green anoles (A. smaragdinus), trunk anoles (A. distichus), and even a good number of twig anoles (A. angusticeps), which are notoriously hard to spot, so we were pretty excited. The island is also home to healthy populations of curly-tailed lizards (Leiocephalus), whiptails (Ameiva), and several species of gecko, so there was lots to see.

We collected during the day and at night, and were amused by the behavior of some of these lizards. My favorite find was this little guy sleeping under a leafy blanket. He almost fooled us, but that little curl of tail poking out gave him away.

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We were also lucky to witness an adult angusticeps in broad daylight, the first time either of us had ever spotted a twig anole during the daytime. In true twig anole fashion, he kept subtly repositioning himself around the branch to hide, making it rather annoying to photograph him. Nonetheless, it was an exciting find.

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Anolis angusticeps, taken by Anthony Geneva

On the other side of the spectrum was this very bold smaragdinus¸ who jumped from a leaf above and stood right next to me, giving me some solid side-eye before running back up the trunk.

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For a quick four-day trip, we saw a really remarkable diversity of lizards, and we had a great time on Bimini.

 

 

 

Brown Anole Predation by Red-bellied Woodpeckers in Florida

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While visiting relatives last week in Fort Myers (FL), anole enthusiast and avid wildlife photographer Kyle Wullschleger noticed a commotion among the trees while on an afternoon hike in a small neighbourhood nature preserve. On closer inspection he witnessed a group of red-bellied woodpeckers (Melanerpes carolinus) foraging on surrounding cypress trees, with a couple eventually appearing with their apparent target–non-native Cuban brown anoles (A. sagrei). He recalls some of the details:

“The photos from the sequence aren’t all that fantastic because I cropped in so it really just shows the behavior. The whole sequence the woodpecker was basically just slamming the anole against the tree and then trying to pick it apart – it was hard to tell what exactly it was doing, but I believe it eventually swallowed it whole before flying away–it hopped behind the tree so I couldn’t see it anymore.”

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“There were at least five birds all moving up and down the lower third of the cypress trees just around the boardwalk I was on. They were moving around the trees without really knocking the wood, so maybe they were purposefully targeting anoles? I only saw successful predation twice, but the brush is so thick–it’s obviously happening quite a bit.”

Sean Giery had previously discussed the main avian predators of anoles in urban South Florida, but woodpeckers didn’t make the list. Woodpeckers do occur in urban areas of South Florida; a new one to add to the list?

On the importance of Dorsal and Tail Crest Illumination in Anolis Signals

With a flurry of recent attention investigating how background light may influence the signalling efficiency of Anolis dewlaps (1,2,3,4), particularly those inhabiting low-light environments where patches of sunlight appear at a premium, it occurred to me that extended dorsal and tail crests may fall under similar selection. Below are some photos of Puerto Rican crested anoles (Anolis cristatellus) – a species in which males exhibit an enlarged tail crest and the ability to voluntarily erect impressive nuchal and dorsal crests during aggressive interactions (the mechanisms of which are detailed in this previous AA post) – that show how crests may contribute to signalling.

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I have no doubt this thought has crossed the minds of many anole scientists before, particularly those current graduate students so successfully studying A. cristatellus and familiar with their ecology and behaviour (namely Alex Gunderson, Kristin Winchell, Matt McElroy, and Luisa Otero). Dewlaps are undoubtedly of primary importance to anole signalling and communication, but what are people’s general thoughts on the relative importance of other morphological features?

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Battling Crested Anoles (A. cristatellus) in South Miami, FL

While out watching lizards last week with my undergraduate research assistant extraordinaire, Oliver Ljustina, and fellow SoFlo anole Ph.D. student Winter Beckles, we happened upon a pair of male crested anoles (Anolis cristatellus) ready to rumble! This is quite early – but not unheard of – in the season for the commencement of territorial disputes, so it was a surprise to see them locking horns so aggressively. This couple were battling fairly high in the tree, at approximately 3m.

Anyway, here are the pictures!

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Anolis sagrei Survey Continued: Eleuthera, The Bahamas

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I just got back from a short trip down to Eleuthera in The Bahamas where I was assisting Anthony Geneva (Harvard post-doc) in sampling lizards. Also along for the trip were Sofia Prado-Irwin (Harvard Ph.D. student) and Rich Glor (University of Kansas). We went with the main goal of sampling Anolis sagrei from four habitat types found commonly in the Bahamas as an extension of an ongoing project in the Losos lab (previous posts from: Rum CayConcepcion IslandRagged IslandBiminiMangrove habitat, and Great Isaac Cay). Specifically, we were looking to sample Anolis sagrei in mangrove, secondary coppice forest, closed coppice forest, and beach scrub habitats. These habitats differ in the height of the canopy, density of the understory, and composition of plants.

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We focused entirely on the southern half of the island near Rock Sound and Cape Eleuthera. We were successful in sampling two beach scrub habitats, two mature coppice forest, one secondary coppice forest, and one mangrove habitat. We were able to catch all four of the anole species found on Eleuthera: Anolis angusticeps, Anolis distichus, Anolis sagrei, and Anolis smaragdinus. We also encountered a number of other native herp species: the Bahamian boa (Chilobothrus striatus), Ameiva auberi, Eleutherodactylus rogersi, curly tailed lizards (Leiocephalus carinatus), and the Bahamian racer (Alsophis voodoo), as well as a couple of non-native species: Cuban tree frog (Osteopilus septentrionalis), and Hemidactylus mabouia.

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In my own research I work with Anolis cristatellus, the Puerto Rican crested anole. I am always surprised when I catch A. sagrei by how much smaller they are than A. cristatellus, although very similar in appearance otherwise. On this trip, I was also surprised that the A. sagrei, as well as the A. angusticeps and the A. smaragdinus, appeared to be much smaller than those I had encountered on Bimini last spring.

We also found that the density of lizards was quite low compared to what we expected and what I had experienced in Bimini, both during the day and at night. In all four of the habitat types, we saw an abundance of hatchlings, juveniles, females, and small males, but relatively few full adult male A. sagrei. For A. angusticeps and A. smaragdinus, we encountered only a few individuals total during the week of sampling. This reminded me of an odd experience I had last fall in Puerto Rico with A. cristatellus. It was the same time of year and I had an extremely difficult time locating mature animals in sites where I had previously sampled large numbers during the spring and summer months. Instead, I observed a large number of very young animals and females. I’m curious if this is a coincidence or if perhaps there is a strong seasonal effect on either male behavior (i.e., reduced visibility outside of the mating season) or male abundance (i.e., reduced numbers because of mortality during the mating season). In other words, are the males still there, but hiding, or are they really lower in abundance in the late fall? Or maybe I was coincidentally unlucky on both trips… I am very curious to hear thoughts on this!

Anolis sagrei using coral ground habitat.

Anolis sagrei using coral ground habitat.

Finally, I want to end with a short natural history note on the habitat use of the A. sagrei in the mangrove habitat. In this habitat we observed A. sagrei using perches at drastically different heights: some were 6 feet up, others were on the ground. Interestingly, the ones on the ground did not appear to be in transit, but seemed to be using the pockmarked karst as perches, running into one of the many holes when approached. Has any one else observed this behavior before? It seems so different from the typical trunk-ground anole perch and behavior to me.

That’s all for now. Currently Anthony is sampling additional islands in the Bahamas along with Melissa Kemp (Harvard post-doc) and Colin Donihue (Yale Ph.D. candidate / Harvard visiting student). Best of luck to them, I can’t wait to hear how the rest of the trip went!

Blanchard Cave, a Window into the Late Pleistocene and Holocene Squamates from Marie-Galante Island (Guadeloupe Archipelago, Lesser Antilles)

Over the past few years, two European research programs developed an interest in the ancient fauna and environment of the Guadeloupe islands. The prospection for cave deposits led to the discovery of numerous accumulations of fossil remains documenting the Holocene and Late Pleistocene faunas of the archipelago, especially on the island of Marie-Galante, where three major deposits were discovered.

Blanchard Cave is one of these deposits. This cave contains the oldest fossil-bearing sedimentary layers of the island dated around 40,000 years before present and is an excellent complement to the two others cave documenting the Late Pleistocene fauna of Marie-Galante (Cadet 2 and Cadet 3).

After a test excavation in 2008 that revealed the potential of the site in term of fossil fauna, Blanchard cave was investigated between 2013 and 2014 in the framework of a European research program interested in the past environment and fauna of the Guadeloupe islands, the BIVAAG project. The three excavation campaigns conducted during this period allowed the precise documentation of the sedimentary filling of the cavities and the recovering of thousands of skeletal remains mainly attributed to frogs, lizards, snakes and bats.

The excavation work in the cave (Picture: A. Lenoble)

The excavation work in the cave (Picture: A. Lenoble)

 

Welcome gifts from the bats… (Picture: C. Bochaton)

Welcome gifts from the bats… (Picture: C. Bochaton)

But collecting the fossils remains was not that easy and although the perspective of working in the Caribbean a few hundred meters from the sea could seem very attractive, the working conditions in the cave were far from pleasant. Mainly because the cave was inhabited from the ground to the roof by numerous cockroaches, rats, gnats and bats. Bats were extremely noisy, and proved to be extremely rude hosts. Another difficulty was the potential occurrence of histoplasmosis in the cave that led to the necessity of wearing a respirator during the work. Such masks make breathing difficult during the work and combined with the heat, humidity and other disagreements previously mentioned strongly impact your initial enthusiasm.

Once you overlook these difficulties, the sediment was extracted from the site and then washed and sieved in order to retrieve the small bones contained in it (the bones are usually smaller than 5 mm). The remains were then recovered and sorted, partly in the field (unfortunately this activity often kept the paleontologists outside of the cave and away from the bats), before being studied.

Washing and sieving of the sediments (Picture: M. E. Kemp)

Washing and sieving of the sediments (Picture: M. E. Kemp)

Recovering of the fossil bones (Picture: M. E. Kemp)

Recovering of the fossil bones (Picture: M. E. Kemp)

 

 

 

 

 

 

The results of the study of the squamates remains collected in the cave can be found in a very recently published paper. To summarize the main findings, we found evidence of the past occurrence of at least ten species of snakes and lizards: four snakes: Antillotyphlops sp., Boa sp., Alsophis cf. antillensis and an undetermined colubroid; and six lizards: Anolis ferreus, Iguana sp., Leiocephalus sp, Thecadactylus sp., cf. Capitellum mariagalantae and Ameiva sp.. The stratigraphic distribution of these taxa in the site combined with previously existing data show that only two extinctions (Boa sp. and Colubroid ind.) are dated from the Pleistocene/Holocene transition and thus predate the arrival of humans on the islands around 5000 years ago. Then during the pre-Columbian times two new taxa appear in the deposits, Iguana and Thecadactylus. On the other hand, a massive faunal turnover began after the European colonization of the island. Indeed, at least six squamate genera (Leiocephalus, Capitellum, Ameiva, Antillotyphlops, Alsophis and Erythrolamprus), including all the snake genera, were extirpated between 1492 and today. Thus, 55% of the squamate genera present during pre-Columbian times went extinct over the past few centuries.

These results are further evidence of the current sixth mass extinction crisis and of the strong impact of humans on this insular fauna. However, Marie-Galante Island remains an isolated case because the past fauna of most of the Lesser Antillean islands remains poorly known and in most cases totally unknown despite the critical importance that such data may have in many fields to test inferences built on modern data.

 

Reaching Safety

When somebody talks about roads crossing along natural forest, we could think about the perturbation this may cause to local fauna, especially in the Tropics. At least in Panama, wildlife crossings are not so popular in terms of design, deployment and monitoring. To my knowledge, the few existing ones are aerial and designed keeping in mind the crossing of monkeys or sloths for example. This issue came to my mind on the 3rd of November when I saw a Dactyloa insignis trying to cross an 8 m road traversing Santa Fe National Park, one of the pristine forest in central Panama.

Captured at Santa Fe National Park, Panama

Captured at Santa Fe National Park, Panama

It made three short attempts and looked clumsy when trying to run on the pavement puting him at risk of death, so we caught him and helped him reach the other side of the road.

Conception Island, Bahamas Lizard Survey

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A view across Conception Island from the North.

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Female A. sagrei

As part of our saga chasing Anolis sagrei around the Caribbean, we had the incredible fortune to visit the remote Conception Island Bank in the Bahamas. Conception Island and its associated small satellites are situated on their own bank, adjacent to Long Island which occupies a southeastern edge of the Great Bahamas Bank. Conception Bank and all its satellite islets are protected by the Bahamas National Trust as a National Park, and the bank is presently uninhabited though there is some history of human habitation in the past. Conception Island is quite small, totaling only 9 km by 2 km and has never been connected to any other island banks, meaning that the plants and animals here have almost certainly arrived via dispersal. Though located only 25 km ENE from the northern tip of Long Island, the 2400 m deep water and strong NW currents mean that the Conception Bank has a relatively depauperate terrestrial fauna owing to the vicissitudes of over-water dispersal. For example, in the latest comprehensive list of island herpetofaunal records, Long Island boasts 16 native extant species of reptiles and amphibians, relative to just five on the Conception Bank. Granted, this is potentially owing to lower sampling effort on Conception, as it is a remote, difficult, and expensive place to conduct extensive surveys. Indeed at least one record, that of the Bahamas Boa Chilabothrus strigilatus, is poorly documented and probably spurious.

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An unusual dewlap color for A. sagrei

Alberto Puente-Rolon (UIPR-Arecibo), Anthony Geneva (Glor/Losos labs), Nick Herrmann (Losos Lab), and Kevin Aviles-Rodriguez (Kolbe/Revell labs) traveled with me to the Conception Bank aboard the Golden Bear out of Stella Maris, Long Island for two days in July 2015. Our goal was to sample Anolis sagrei from the bank, as well as generally conduct herpetofaunal surveys. We were particularly interested in verifying and attempting to build upon the last report of a herpetofaunal survey there (Franz and

Male Anolis sagrei displaying a light orange/ yellow dewlap in coastal palm scrub habitat.

Male Anolis sagrei displaying a light orange/ yellow dewlap in coastal palm scrub habitat.

Buckner 1998). While we expected Anolis sagrei to be present (it was), we also thought that the lack of a record for Anolis distichus might not stand up to our surveys. Alas, we checked multiple habitat types both day and night, from beach scrub to mature forests to mangroves and failed to turn up A. distichus. Though present on nearby Rum and San Salvador Banks (as well as Long Island), this species is curiously apparently absent from Conception.

Happily, we did find Anolis sagrei in abundance, and with some unusual features to boot. For one, the largest males are really quite large, tipping the scales at over 7 grams. Many males sported tall tail crests, and in the coastal scrub habitat, their yellowish dewlaps, combined with large size and tail crests, gave them an overall appearance very similar to Puerto Rican Crested Anoles (A. cristatellus). Interestingly, dewlaps in the forest appeared more traditionally sagrei-red, so we will see what our spectrometer and photographic data tell us about dewlap color variation on the bank. We will continue to update AA on our work with A. sagrei in the Bahamas.

Male Anolis sagrei with a large tail crest

Male Anolis sagrei with a large tail crest.

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Kevin and Nick at work

Ragged Island, Bahamas, Lizard Research

Air approach to Great Ragged Island

Air approach to Great Ragged Island

We have been on the move quite a bit for our project on Anolis sagrei. On a recent trip to the Bahamas, Alberto Puente-Rolon (UIPR-Arecibo) and I were able to visit the remote Great Ragged Island, located at the southeastern edge of the Great Bahamas Bank only 115 km from the coast of Cuba. Great Ragged is the only inhabited island in the Ragged Island/Jumentos Cays range, a necklace of islands stretching in a sweeping concave arc from Long Island and the southern Exumas to the range terminus at Little Ragged Island. A mere 70 or so people live on Great Ragged, concentrated in Duncan Town, a small settlement perched atop a surprisingly high hill overlooking the deep ocean to the east and dark green expanses of mangroves to the west. Duncan Town is picturesque in the authentic Bahamian sense–brightly colored houses are dotted between crumbling ruins dating back a century or more. Chickens cover yards, and old stone walls snake from the town out into the bush. An artisanal and on-demand salt raking operation continues here, and small pyramids of bleached salt dot the edges of an expansive salina filled with shallow waters reflecting varying hues of pinks and reds in the morning sunlight.

Duncan Town salina and tropical dry scub habitat

Duncan Town salina and tropical dry scrub habitat shallow waters reflecting varying hues of pinks and reds in the morning sunlight. Photo by Alberto Puente.

Anolis smaragdinus from Ragged Island

Anolis smaragdinus from Ragged Island. Photo by Alberto Puente

The Anolis sagrei here are, as in most locations, abundant. We had great success locating them at night, where they sleep exposed on branches and reflect a pale glow in the beam of a headlamp. We sampled anoles from different habitat types on Great Ragged, including coastal Cocoloba uvifera stands, mangrove forest, stunted closed canopy tropical dry forest (where we had to crawl to make our way through), and highly disturbed goat pasture. We are excited to see how the population here compares to the rest of the range. In particular, we are wondering whether the sagrei on Great Ragged belong to the eastern or western Bahamas genetic lineage, which we have uncovered in previous work. The A. distichus here certainly resemble the populations in the western Bahamas, rather than the eastern Bahamas, to which Great Ragged is connected by the Jumentos Cays. We will follow up on these distichus observations in a later post. I will keep AA updated on what we find as we begin analysis of our data.

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Shipping Live Lizards via Cargo from the Dominican Republic

Assuming you can’t get your lizards to fly themselves to your lab, you might want to read this information on how to transport them home. Photo from http://www.deviantart.com/morelikethis/27371609

After years of transporting live anoles from the Caribbean to my lab in the United States in my checked luggage, this summer in the Dominican Republic, a Delta Airlines agent refused to accept our cooler full of lizards as luggage for our plane. After pursuing every avenue we could think of, it became clear that our only remaining option was to ship the lizards as cargo. We spent several days working out this process, and after making a number of mistakes, we finally arrived at a relatively smooth procedure. To prevent others from having to learn these steps on their own, if such a situation arises for other researchers, we’ve written out the steps that worked for us below. The details provided are for the airport in Santo Domingo, but this general approach may be helpful in other locations as well. (And, if you find yourself in the Dominican Republic in the near future, I’d be happy to give you the contact information for all of the folks listed below.)

Continue reading Shipping Live Lizards via Cargo from the Dominican Republic

It’s Hard Out Here for an Anole

I moved to Florida almost a year ago but am just now gearing up for my first, full-fledged anole deluge, typical of Florida in the spring. As the temperature rises, more and more anoles can be seen basking, mating, or, most frequently, scattering to get out from under your feet as you walk down the sidewalk! Life as an anole can be challenging, as has been documented here on AA by the likes of James Stroud and Ambika Kamath, but now that I am in the thick of anole season here in Gainesville, seeing first hand the tribulations that arise from amazingly dense populations of lizards navigating an ever-challenging urban environment, I have come to realize (and in a few cases document!) the brutal realities of life as an anole in central Florida. Below are a few of the more incredible maladies I’ve seen since moving to Florida:

  • A lizard who just couldn’t quite fit through the stem of a Heliconia, a fatal miscalculation.

AA Size Palmetto Head

  • An A. carolinensis missing his entire dewlap, possibly from a bite injury? As he ran up the tree on which I released him, I could see the lizard extending what was left of his second ceratobranchials (just under his chin), a fruitless attempt to warn me to bug off.

AA Size Dewlapless

  • A brutally battered A. sagrei. This lizard was missing both eyes and his tail, two of the three injuries still bleeding when I found him, while also sporting a completely broken upper left jaw. Looks like these nasty wounds may have been sustained from a larger predator, such as a bird or pedestrian, as it seems unlikely that a lock-jaw fight between two male lizards would lead to such deadly consequences for the loser.

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Mangrove Twig Anoles

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Anolis angusticeps, South Bimini, Bahamas

One component of our recent field work in Bimini, Bahamas involved gathering data from anoles across various habitat types. We selected four primary habitats for sampling based partly on the notable work by Schoener (1968): blackland forest; incipient blackland; Coccothrinax coastal scrub; and mixed Avicennia, Laguncularia, and Rhizophora mangrove forest.

Mangrove forest nocturnal survey.

Mangrove forest nocturnal survey.

South Bimini is an interesting place to study anoles in that it is a relatively small island harboring four species across at least eight different habitat types.  Schoener’s excellent study of habitat use in these species indicated that mangrove forests were marginal habitat for anoles, supporting only two of the four species (A. sagrei and A. smaragdinus). During nocturnal surveys, we located both of these species roosting on Avicennia and Laguncularia leaves and branches, though in much lower numbers than other forest types. We found no anoles in Rhizophora mangle at our study site. However, we did find a number of A. angusticeps in this forest, mostly perching horizontally on Avicennia branches. We would like to know, how many others have found twig anoles in mangrove forest?

Bark Anole Battle Scars in Miami, FL

As it starts to heat up here in Miami, anole interactions are at the highest while males try to stake their claim for the most attractive territories in town. Earlier during an afternoon stroll around South Miami I came across this bark anole (Anolis distichus) that looks like it’s had a pretty rough time recently!

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I assume this injury to his nape is probably from another lizard, likely another male A. distichus, incurred during a territorial dispute, and not a predation attempt. Either way, it looks like it didn’t dent his confidence too much!

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Great Egret Eating a Crested Anole in Miami, FL

Here is a video taken by University of Miami PhD student Joanna Weremijewicz at the Fairchild Tropical Botanical Gardens in Miami, FL last Friday (20th March 2015). There have been lots of posts talking about the predation potential of egrets (and other wading birds) on anoles here on AA similar to this (1,2,3,4), but I think this could be the first one recording predation of A. cristatellus? Cool video!

Field Trip Recap: Herps of Bimini, The Bahamas

 

Searching for Anolis sagrei on the beautiful island of Bimini

Anolis sagrei on the beautiful island of Bimini

I just got back from a 10 day research trip to Bimini in the western Bahamas along with Harvard post-doc, Graham Reynolds, Harvard graduate student, Pavitra Muralidhar, and UMass Boston undergraduate, Jason Fredette. We went with the simple goals of kicking off a research project in the Losos lab on Anolis sagrei  and to observe as many other herps as we could.

We spent the majority of our time on South Bimini. We sampled from the well-maintained Nature Trail, where we found all four anole species (Anolis sagreiAnolis smaragdinusAnolis angusticeps, and Anolis distichus) and a Bimini boa among diverse habitat types, including blackland coppice and open Coccothrinax shrub. We also spent a couple of nights searching in some mangrove forest near the airport, which yielded only A. sagrei and A. angusticeps and in low abundance at that. The “Fountain of Youth” ended up being a gold mine for Sphaerodactylus nigropunctatus as well as boas — we caught 3 here.

We also did a fair amount of exploring. Our hosts for our house rental wanted to make sure we had a great time in Bimini and so they insisted on boating us out to a couple of the nearby islands for some snorkeling. Of course, we saw this as the perfect opportunity to catch a few lizards. Our first destination was Gun Cay, a small island a few miles to the south of Bimini. Pavitra and Jason entertained our hosts by collecting shells and feeding stingrays. Meanwhile, despite our hosts’ curiosity that we wanted to go wander in the brush, Graham and I nabbed 10 adult male A. sagrei in less than an hour. We also saw several Ameiva auberiAnolis smaragdinus, and some sort of very large rodent (does anyone know about Hutia reintroductions in the Bahamas?).

The following day, our hosts insisted we come with them to a small island 20+ miles to the north of Bimini (Great Isaac Cay) where they promised us dolphins and hammerhead sharks. On the way to the island we saw several dolphins, tons of flying fish, sea turtles, and several large nurse sharks. As we approached the island, I saw the mature Casuarina forest and yelled down to Graham from the crow’s nest tower, “I want to go explore there!”  Our hosts got us as close as they could to the rocky shore (dangerously close it seemed, the hull almost hit the rocky karst island) and all four of us hopped onto the island. The island had an abandoned lighthouse and buildings from the 1800’s that we explored. We were shocked to not find a single anole on Isaac Island, although we did find Sphaerodactylus nigropunctatus and Ameiva auberi.

The isolated Great Isaac Cay with ruins from the late 1800's.

The isolated Great Isaac Cay with ruins from the late 1800’s.

The trip was a huge success. In total, we came across all but five of the reptiles of Bimini. Surprisingly, we were unable to find any Bahamian racers (Alsophis vudii) other than roadkills, though most of our field time was at night. Unsurprisingly, we did not find either of the blind snakes or the dwarf boa, the latter of which tends to be more common in the rainy season. As expected, A. sagrei was the most abundant anole on Bimini. We came across A. angusticeps and A. smaragdinus with equal frequency and actually encountered only a few A. distichus. We did most of our searching at night, so this may be a reflection on different sleeping behaviors rather than abundance.

In summary, we were able to observe:

  • 140+ Anolis sagrei males and females
  • Sphaerodactylus nigropunctatus (black-dotted dwarf gecko)
  • Sphaerodactylus argus (ocellated dwarf gecko)
  • Dozens of Leiocephalus carinatus (curly-tail lizard)
  • Chilabothrus strigilatus fosteri (Bimini boa)
  • a handful of Anolis distichusAnolis smaragdinusAnolis angusticeps

We also saw a number of other herps that we were not able to catch or didn’t need data from:

  • Ameiva auberi (Bimini ameiva)
  • Eleutherodactylus planirostris (greenhouse frog)
  • Osteopilus septentrionalis (Cuban tree frog)
  • Hemidactylus mabouia (invasive house gecko)

 

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Some Sleepy Anoles from Costa Rica

I’m in southern Costa Rica doing field work with bats, but once an anole lover, always an anole lover so when I get a night off I like to go herping. Since everyone loves a sleeping anole (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, among others), I thought I’d share some photos that a friend and I took while wandering around at night. I’m not sure what the last one is; I’m guessing Anolis polylepis (we’re at 1100m at the Las Cruces Biological Station and it was sleeping about 1m above the ground).

Anolis capito. Photo by Jon Flanders

Anolis capito. Photo by Jon Flanders

Anolis aquaticus. Photo by Jon Flanders

Anolis aquaticus. Photo by Jon Flanders

Anolis polylepis? Photo by Jon Flanders

Anolis polylepis? Photo by Jon Flanders

Postura de Anolis huilae: Communal Nesting!

En el marco de mi investigación sobre la Eco-fisiología térmica de Anolis huilae, me encontré (en mi finca) con un par de posturas, una con cuatro huevos y otra con 22 huevos. Este hallazgo me sorprendió, al encontrar diferentes tamaños en los huevos.

Postura de Anolis huilae, Juntas (Ibagué-Tolima-Colombia)

Postura de Anolis huilae, Juntas (Ibagué-Tolima-Colombia)

En mi curiosidad por determinar si efectivamente se trataba de huevos de la especie en mención, me di a la tarea de abrir uno para corroborar, encontrando un individuo en un estadío de su formación (el ejemplar fue donado al Laboratorio de Herpetología de la Universida del Tolima).

Embrión de Anolis huilae.

Embrión de Anolis huilae.

He comenzado hacerle el seguimiento a esa postura, in situ, midiendo y pesando cada uno de los huevos.

Considero que este hallazgo aportará detalles acerca de la historia de vida de Anolis huilae, aún desconocida.