Category Archives: Notes from the Field

Notes on the Neblina tepui Anole (Anolis neblininus), Discovered in Brazil

Female  Anolis neblininus .

Female Anolis neblininus .

In November 2017, I had the opportunity to join a team of scientists led by herpetologist Miguel T. Rodrigues (University of São Paulo) in an extraordinary expedition to the Serra da Neblina, a very remote tepui (sandstone table-top mountain) on the Brazil-Venezuela border. The expedition involved the Brazilian Army, several Yanomami guides, and a team of BBC journalists. We collected around 2,500 samples of amphibians, reptiles, birds, small mammals, and plants between 80 and 2,995 m of altitude – among them, at least 10 frog and lizard species new to science!

Neblina peak (2,995 m) as seen from our camp at the Bacia do Gelo ("ice bowl", 1,997 m).

Neblina peak (2,995 m), Brazil’s highest mountain, as seen from our camp in the Bacia do Gelo (“ice basin”) at 1,997 m.

As soon as we got to an elevation of around 2,000 m, we started looking for Anolis neblininus, the Neblina anole. This mysterious lizard was described based on six individuals collected on the Venezuelan portion of the mountain in the 80’s by a team of AMNH-Smithsonian scientists. To our surprise, it took us only a few hours to find one, two, several individuals – the first records of A. neblininus in Brazil!

The Neblina anole seems to be locally abundant, with more than 30 individuals found over a week. Because of their slow movements and cryptic coloration, these lizards are really hard to spot during the day. All but two individuals were found at night, sleeping on thin branches and leaves on the edge of forest patches, at a height of 1-4 meters above the ground. Although we set up 100 pitfall traps in the area to sample herps and small mammals, all of the anoles were found through active search.

Neblina anoles really like to sleep on fern leaves - most individuals were found this way.

Neblina anoles really like to sleep on fern leaves – most individuals were found this way.

To learn a bit about how much Neblina anoles move during the day, we experimented with spooling a few individuals. Based on how much thread they left along their way, it seems that A. neblininus does not move much in a day. Individuals go up and down short trees and bushes, but do not seem to walk on exposed ground. However, the spools that we had – leftovers from a study of larger Enyalius lizards – may have been too awkward for such small anoles to carry.

Spooling lizards is an effective way to learn how much they move and what type of substrate they use. Unfortunately the spools that we had were rather big for these anoles.

Spooling lizards is a simple yet effective way to learn how much they move and what type of substrate they use. Unfortunately, the spools that we had were probably too big for these anoles!

Follow the thread to find the lizard!

Follow the thread to find the lizard!

These montane lizards experience remarkably low temperatures. At night, when temperatures were as low as 6oC, the anoles were unresponsive for long periods after captured, apparently because they were too cold. On consecutive mornings, we followed individuals (spotted on the night before) to check at what time they would become active. To our surprise, the anoles started moving at different times in each day, between 6 and 9:30 am, in an apparent association with how cold it was. It is therefore possible that the onset of activity is given mostly by temperature, as opposed to when the sun comes out.

Male Anolis neblininus. Too cold to go anywhere.

Male Anolis neblininus. Too cold to go anywhere.

One interesting feature of A. neblininus is how variable their coloration is. Some individuals have gray bodies, others green or brown; some have yellow heads. They are also capable of changing their colors a bit. The dewlap is well developed in females, with dark spots on an orange or brown background. Male dewlaps are white, bluish, or yellowish. Neblina anoles have a very cool-looking dorsal crest, more developed in males.

Male (left, center) and female dewlaps.

Male (left, center) and female dewlaps.

Our recent studies of mainland anole lizard evolution and biogeography have found that A. neblininus is closely related to species from montane Atlantic Forest, Andes, and Andean foothills. This pattern may result from a history of cool habitats connecting South American mountains in the past, followed by habitat retraction and extinction in intervening areas. Our expedition to the Neblina revealed additional species that seem to be related with taxa from distant mountains. We are now examining their history based on genetic data to help shed light on the history of the mysterious tepui fauna.

The Not-So-Bitter Future of Coffee: Anolis Lizards as Biocontrol Agents in Mainland and Island Agroecosystems

Figure 7. Anolis gundlachi, Orocovis, Puerto Rico.

Figure 1. Anolis gundlachi, Orocovis, Puerto Rico.

The agroecosystems that produce the life-sustaining stimulant we know as “coffee” have long been used as model systems to study complex ecological interactions and ecosystem services, with numerous studies revealing trophic interactions among coffee plants, pests, and pest-predators. Despite the high abundance and overlapping distribution of Anolis lizards, relatively few studies have addressed their functional role in agriculture. In our recent study titled, “Anolis Lizards as Biocontrol Agents in Mainland and Island Agroecosystems,” my colleagues and I explore the biocontrol potential of anoles against the world’s most devastating coffee pest, the coffee berry borer (Coleoptera: Hypothenemus hampei) in mainland and island settings.

My vision of agricultural landscapes as post-apocalyptic biodiversity deserts was trumped the minute I stepped foot onto a shade coffee farm in Orocovis, Puerto Rico. Far from the dystopian nightmare that I had envisioned, this diversified shade coffee farm bustled with the herpetological glory and natural complexity of a native forest (Fig. 1). Furthermore – and perhaps most importantly – the farmer complained not of issues with crop yield, pests, and disease.

As a plant, coffee occurs naturally in the forest understory and is cultivated traditionally among native shade trees as an understory crop. While pressures to increase production have led many farmers to transition to more intensive practices (i.e., the reduction of shade cover and application of agrochemicals to manage crop pests), these methods are becoming increasingly unsustainable and insufficient in light of emerging biological threats. In addition to climate change and the emerging coffee rust disease, the coffee berry borer poses a unique threat for dozens of coffee growing nations and nearly 20 million small-scale farmers who depend on coffee production as a primary commodity and means of subsistence. While the coffee berry borer (CBB) is capable of inducing 60-90% reductions in yields and persists unaffected by topical pesticides, our understanding of the predator-prey interactions that drive its top-down control and how these factors vary across management regimes and eco-geographic space has profound socio-economic and environmental implications for biological control.

Representative photographs of diversified shade coffee in Mexico (a), diversified shade coffee in Puerto Rico (b), intensive sun coffee in Mexico (c), and intensive sun coffee in Puerto Rico (d).

Figure 2. Representative photographs of diversified shade coffee in Mexico (a), diversified shade coffee in Puerto Rico (b), intensive sun coffee in Mexico (c), and intensive sun coffee in Puerto Rico (d).

To assess the biocontrol capacity of anoles, we conducted experimental and field-based tests of how CBB populations respond to anole predation across mainland (Mexico) and island (Puerto Rico) coffee farms with parallel forms of land-use intensity. Anole functional response and infestation reduction potential were assessed by simulating pest outbreaks in the lab, while coffee farms were surveyed along complementary gradients of intensification. Organic, diversified shade coffee farms were representative of low-intensity production, and sun coffee monocultures that included the application of agrochemicals were representative of high intensification (Fig. 2). Continue reading The Not-So-Bitter Future of Coffee: Anolis Lizards as Biocontrol Agents in Mainland and Island Agroecosystems

The Lichen Anole and Evidence for Parental Care

During an excursion with Indigo Expeditions to Estación Biológica Las Guacamayas, Parque Nacional Laguna del Tigre, Guatemala, we observed the unusual behaviour of a female Lichen Anole Anolis beckeri (previously Anolis/Norops pentaprion), a rarely-studied, canopy-dwelling, anole from Central America. In a paper  in Mesoamerican Herpetology, we report on observing a female A. beckeri potentially tending and guarding eggs. This is possibly also an example of oviposition site fidelity in an anole.

Figure 1

Seven Anolis beckeri deposited in the base of a Bromeliad. Photo: Kimberley Carter

Seven unknown lizard eggs were first discovered on 9th July 2015. The eggs were deposited in the leaves of a bromeliad plant (Bromelia sp.) roughly 5m above the ground. The lichen anole is typically a canopy-dwelling species but, luckily for us, the bromeliad was in a tree at eye level to one of the research station’s balconies! The bromeliad plant had collected water and one egg in particular, lying partially submerged, was a brown, speckled colour. Another of the eggs appeared indented, a sign of potential imminent hatching. The female A. beckeri deposited an additional egg after our return to the UK, which reflects similar egg laying pattern for Anolis where independent, single eggs are laid every 5–25 days during the breeding season (Losos, 2009).

Over the next few days there were no changes in the eggs’ shapes or colour. It wasn’t until 3 days later, on the 12th of July, that we finally witnessed the owner of these eggs: a female A. beckeri sat above the clutch on one of the fronds of the bromeliad. The anole was seen repeatedly climbing into the bromeliad, seemingly to examine the eggs. She would then lick them and exhale heavily over them (perhaps to increase airflow?), before retreating to the top of the bromeliad. She repeated this sequence of behaviours, retreating to safety up the tree and then re-emerging to check on the eggs numerous times.

Figure 2aFigure 2b

Video stills of the female Anolis beckeri tending the eggs. Photos: Kimberley Carter

Video stills of the female Anolis beckeri tending the eggs. Photos: Kimberley Carter

We recorded these behaviours on video and in photographs from a distance, to avoid disturbing the lizard. The female returned on numerous occasions to examine, lick and ‘aerate’ the eggs or to seemingly guard the eggs over the next few days but on the 14th of July the female only monitored the eggs from a distance of ca. 30 cm away and did not approach them.

We also witnessed potential predatory behaviour from a Mexican Parrot Snake (Leptophis mexicanus), On the 15th July the snake was seen in the vicinity of the clutch, perhaps attempting to prey on the adult female. See full paper for detail.

These observations offer insight into the life history and behaviour of this rarely-seen anole species. Hopefully, with the continued work of Indigo Expeditions and the guides at Estación Biológica Las Guacamayas we’ll learn more about these interesting reproductive behaviours in the future.

Predation of a Gecko by Anolis pulchellus in the British Virgin Islands

In the most recent issue of Herp Review, Anole Annals stalwarts Kevin de Queiroz and Jonathan Losos documented their account of observing an adult female grass-bush anole (Anolis pulchellus) consume a dwarf gecko (Sphaerodactylus macrolepis) on Guana Island, British Virgin Islands. The authors share their detailed report below:

Many primarily insectivorous lizards will eat other vertebrates on occasion, a behavior that has been reported in many species of Anolis. One unifying generality is that such carnivory is size structured, with the predator usually being substantially larger than the prey (Gerber 1999. In Losos and Leal [eds.], Anolis Newsletter V, pp. 28–39. Washington University, Saint Louis, Missouri). Not surprisingly, reports of anole carnivory pertain primarily to middle-sized and larger anoles. Here we report carnivory by a small anole of the species A. pulchellus. To our knowledge, this is the first instance of carnivory reported for this species and one of few for any similar-sized anole (the record noted by Henderson and Powell 2009. Natural History of West Indian Reptiles and Amphibians. University Press of Florida, Gainesville, Florida. 495 pp. is based on the observations reported here).

Fig. 1. Female Anolis pulchellus in the process of ingesting a Sphaerodactylus macrolepis.

Fig. 1. Female Anolis pulchellus in the process of ingesting a
Sphaerodactylus macrolepis.

We observed a female A. pulchellus (SVL ca. 38 mm) capture and consume a Sphaerodactylus macrolepis (SVL ca.18 mm) in the leaf litter at approximately 1430 h on 25 September 2006, on Guana Island, British Virgin Islands, near the head of the Liao Wei Ping Trail at roughly 18.47916°N, 64.57444°W (WGS 84). The anole jumped from a low perch (ca. 20 cm above the ground) to the ground and bit the gecko, which escaped and fled 15–20 cm to the opening of an ant nest. The anole attacked the gecko again, seized it in its mouth and carried it approximately 10 cm up a vine, a distance of 15–20 cm from the site of attack. Initially, the anole held the gecko upside down (i.e., dorsal surface facing down), biting it between the fore and hind limbs on the left side. Eventually the anole worked its grasp posterior to the base of the tail, still on the left side. At this point, parts of both the base of the tail and the left hind limb were in the anole’s mouth (Fig. 1). The anole then manipulated the gecko so that it was no longer upside down, but rotated about its long axis by roughly 90 degrees (the ventral surface of the gecko was then oriented forward relative to the anole) at which point it was biting the gecko at the base of the tail and possibly by the left hind limb; the anole eventually manipulated the gecko so that it held it tail-first in its mouth, dorsal side up, at which point the anole proceeded to ingest the gecko tail first (during this time, the tail itself broke off and was carried away by ants, which had been biting the gecko in several places since shortly after it was
captured by the anole). Total time from capture to complete ingestion was approximately five minutes.

Predation on Sphaerodactylus geckos has been reported in anoles of only a few species, none of which are as small as Anolis pulchellus (Henderson and Powell 2009. Natural History of West Indian Reptiles and Amphibians. University Press of Florida, Gainesville, Florida. 495 pp.). However, given the size discrepancy between the lizards in these two clades and their extensive coexistence across the Caribbean, we suspect that such interactions may occur with some frequency. Moreover, the high population densities of some Sphaerodactylus geckos (e.g., Rodda et al. 2001. J. Trop. Ecol. 17:331–338) and the diurnal activity of several species (Allen and Powell 2014. Herpetol. Conserv. Biol. 9:590–600) suggest that they may be important prey items for anoles.

Allen, K.E. and Powell, R., 2014. Thermal biology and microhabitat use in Puerto Rican eyespot geckos (Sphaerodactylus macrolepis macrolepis). Herpetological Conservation and Biology, 9(3), pp.590-600.
Gerber 1999. In Losos and Leal [eds.], Anolis Newsletter V, pp. 28–39. Washington University, Saint Louis, Missouri
Henderson and Powell 2009. Natural History of West Indian Reptiles and Amphibians. University Press of Florida, Gainesville, Florida. 495 pp.
Rodda, G.H., Perry, G.A.D., Rondeau, R.J. and Lazell, J., 2001. The densest terrestrial vertebrate. Journal of Tropical Ecology, 17(02), pp.331-338.

Anolis maynardi Male-Male Territorial Bout

This video was filmed and shared by Jen Moss of the Welch Lab at Mississippi State University. She observed the encounter near Preston Bay, Little Cayman, and it’s a great video showing this behavior. Lots of dewlaps, pushups, and potential exposure to predators owing to the use of a non-natural substrate. Thanks Jen!


Field Notes from Long Island, Bahamas


Anolis smaragdinus (left) and Anolis sagrei (right) from Long Island, Bahamas. The individual on the right is marked as part of selection study.

This past August, two field assistants and I went to Long Island, Bahamas to collect data on sympatric populations of Anolis sagrei and Anolis smaragdinus as part of a natural selection study. Our primary study area is a small island (approximately 1000 ft x 200 ft) in the middle of a lake with relatively high densities of both species. While in the field we observed some interesting behaviors that I want to share with the AA community in hopes that you will find them interesting as well!

1) Frugivory by anoles was common at our study site, which had an abundant supply of small berries from black torch (Ertihalis fruticosa) and small-leaved blolly (Guapira discolor).  Anolis smaragdinus was usually the culprit, although we did we did see one adult male A. sagrei eating fruit.

2) We captured (and released) over 150 unique A. smaragdinus and later re-spotted several of those individuals. During a typical eight-hour day, we encountered 15-20 individuals, a surprisingly large portion of which were a male and a female in the same tree. These instances made a particularly strong impression on me when they were separated by long periods of not seeing any A. smaragdinus. I can think of multiple occasions in which we found a couple together, saw no individuals for another three hours, and then suddenly came across another couple. In several instances, there were three individuals in the same tree. I’m not aware of green anoles mate guarding, and unfortunately the data I have don’t have the resolution to provide much insight here, but the pattern was definitely striking.


3) We observed an act of cannibalism in A.smaragdinus, a species for which cannibalism has not previously been reported (although it has reported for the closely related A. carolinensis). We captured an adult female, saw that she was eating something, and proceeded to lose our marbles after pulling a hatchling (pictured) out of her mouth. Acts of cannibalism by female anoles appear to be rather uncommon (see page 30 of this Anolis newsletter), making this observation perhaps the most intriguing of our adventure!

JMIH 2016: Rock ‘n’ Bowl Anole

At the JMIH in New Orleans this past July, the 100th anniversary celebration of the ASIH was held at the Rock ‘n’ Bowl, where music, food, drink, dancing, and bowling were enjoyed by all. But for those who were alert on their way in, there was an added bonus: anoles! Or, at least, one anole, spotted by Quynh Quach and corralled by Kristin Winchell.

Quynh and Kristin spot their quarry.

As other attendees file in, Quynh and Kristin spot their quarry in the bushes.

Taking a picture of the crowd filing in, I serendipitously caught our two intrepid anoleers  about to make the catch in the bushes to the right of the entrance. Kristin made the grab, and displayed her catch.

Kristin displays the catch.

Kristin displays the catch.

It was, of course, Anolis sagrei, the invasive Cuban species which has been spreading through the southeastern US for more than 80 years now. He was a nice-sized adult male, typical of the nominate form that occurs through most of the species’ US range.  The edificarian habitat– in bushes at the edge of a parking lot next to a building– is also typical of where invasive sagrei can be found.

Adult male Anolis sagrei, New Orleans, Louisiana, 10 July 2016.

An appreciative crowd gathered.

Eager anolologists immortalize the NOLA anole in pixels.

Eager anolologists immortalize the NOLA anole in pixels.

I was glad to see it, because prior to this I had only seen Anolis carolinensis in New Orleans (more on this in a later post).

Quyhn and Kristin show off their catch.

Quynh and Kristin show off their catch.


Ecology of the San Salvador Bark Anole (Anolis distichus ocior)

 An adult male San Salvador Bark Anole (Anolis distichus ocior) displaying. Photograph by Guillermo G. Zuniga.

An adult male San Salvador Bark Anole (Anolis distichus ocior) displaying.
Photograph by Guillermo G. Zuniga.

Dayton Antley and colleagues from Avila University, the home of AA stalwart Bob Powell, recently published a detailed study of the ecology of the San Salvador bark anole (Anolis distichus ocior) in IRCF Reptiles & Amphibians (an open-access herpetological journal, with this article available here). Anolis d. ocior is one of 17 recognized subspecies of the diverse distichus group, and is found on only San Salvador and Rum Cay (Henderson and Powell 2009).

Antley et al. assessed microhabitat use, activity patterns, and approach distances of A. d. ocior in an approximately 0.3ha study area on the grounds of the Gerace Research Centre, dominated by Tropical Almonds (Terminalia catappa), Papaya (Carica papaya), and Ficus trees.

A Google Map view of the Gerace Research Centre. The study site (24°07'05.2"N 74°27'50.9"W) is outlined in white.

A Google Map view of the Gerace Research Centre. The study site
(24°07’05.2″N 74°27’50.9″W) is outlined in white.

In assessing patterns of microhabitat use throughout the day, Antley et al. conducted surveys every two hours for two days from 0700h (about 40 min after sunrise) to 1900h (about 40 min before sunset). Size class, perch height and diameter, body orientation relative to the ground, and thermal microsite (sun/shade/mixed) were recorded for every observed lizard. In the following two days, approach distances were assessed. This was achieved by a surveyor, wearing neutrally-coloured clothing, approaching an undisturbed anole at a steady pace and recording the distance at which the lizard reacted. Over two additional days, 10-minute focal animal observations were conducted of individual adult lizards (including both males and females) at a distance of 5m. The number of movements (changes in location or orientation), head turns, and head bobs were recorded for all lizards, with dewlap displays and pushups being additional recorded for males.

Lizards were active throughout the day, with activity peaking in the early morning and before midday. This was compared to ambient air temperatures recorded 1m from the ground in a shaded and sheltered location. This result surprised the authors, as a second activity peak in late afternoon/early evening was expected, as has observed in other similar studies of bark anoles (e.g. Hillbrand et al. 2011).

Mean number of lizards active (bars) and mean ambient temperatures (dots) per time period. Temperature data were collected on two consecutive days.

Mean number of lizards active (bars) and mean ambient temperatures
(dots) per time period. Temperature data were collected on
two consecutive days.

Adult males experienced highest levels of arboreality during the middle of the day, while subadult males and adult females (grouped together as they can be hard to distinguish from distance) were highly variable (see figure below). Most lizards of all classes were found in the shade, which the authors attributed as evidence for thermal conformity, and facing downward towards the ground, a common trait in many anoles that is most commonly perceived to increase an individual’s ability to monitor potential predators, competitors, or mates. 43% of lizards, however, were observed facing upwards. The author’s note that this behavior is often interpreted as an individual prepared for escape; however as all lizards were observed from distance and undisturbed, they (admirably) explain that this result is difficult to interpret.

A: Mean perch heights (cm) of adult males (L) and subadult males and females (S); B: mean perch heights of adult males at different times of day; C: mean perch heights of subadult males and females at different times of day.

A: Mean perch heights (cm) of adult males (L) and subadult males and females (S); B: mean perch heights of adult males at different times of day;
C: mean perch heights of subadult males and females at different times of day.

Adult male lizards were bolder than smaller subadult males and females, and retreated at a much closer distance when approached by a surveyor (0.99m +/- 0.07m vs. 1.54m +/- 0.18m). Focal observations revealed no significant differences between adult males vs. subadult males/females in shared behaviors, although there was a high variation in the amount of displaying behavior between adult males. The average time spent conducting dewlap displays was 3%, although one male was recorded investing 47% of his time in a combination of dewlap extensions and pushup displays.

Using all survey data combined, Antley et al. estimate that A. d. ocior in this study plot had a population density of 593 individuals/ha, with lizards observed on all but four of the smallest trees surveyed. Antley et al. note that their density estimate is extremely conservative, and much lower than previously published estimates (e.g. 1.070-5,460 individuals/ha, Schoener and Schoener 1978). The authors suggest that the small size of the study plot may have contributed to the relatively low density.

In all, this is a charming (although admittedly short) study of the natural history of the San Salvador bark anole (A. d. ocior) – a great example of an undergraduate research project that follows through to publication!

– Antley, D.L. et al. 2016. Microhabitat, Activity, and Approach Distances of the San Salvador Bark Anole (Anolis distichus ocior). IRCF Reptiles & Amphibians 23(2): 75-81
– Henderson, R.W. and R. Powell. 2009. Natural History of West Indian Reptiles and Amphibians. University of Florida Press, Gainesville, Florida.
– Hillbrand, P.A., A.T. Sloan, and W.K. Hayes. 2011. The terrestrial reptiles of San Salvador Island, Bahamas. Reptiles & Amphibians 18: 154–166.
– Schoener, T.W. and A. Schoener. 1978. Estimating and interpreting body-size growth in some Anolis lizards. Copeia 1978: 390–405.

Anole Surveys on the Cay Sal Bank, Bahamas

Alberto Puente-Rolon (Universidad Interamericana de Puerto Rico, Recinto de Arecibo) and I were incredibly fortunate to spend a week on the Cay Sal Bank, Bahamas. Cay Sal is a partially emergent island bank situated about 100 km south of Islamorada in the Florida Keys and about 50 km north of the Cuban Bank in the vicinity of Sagua la Grande. Politically part of the Commonwealth of the Bahamas, the bank is separated from the Great Bahama Bank by the 47 km-wide Santarem Channel, and is about 175 km west of the southern tip of Andros Island. Cay Sal Bank is a shallow carbonate platform with dozens of small emergent islands around the edges of the roughly triangular-shaped bank.

Anolis sagrei, Cay Sal Island. Photo by Alberto Puente-Rolon.

Anolis sagrei, Cay Sal Island. Photo by Alberto Puente-Rolon.

A note before we launch into the narrative of our trip. The Cay Sal Bank is an area known for a significant amount of illegal activity. This largely involves illegal fishing fleets and human trafficking. While a typical visitor to the area would not likely be in great danger from these activities, there is always the possibility that you might run into the wrong people at the wrong time. Illegal fishing vessels have been known to harass, intimidate, and attempt to board cruising vessels on Cay Sal, while happening upon a human or drug trafficking exchange could be extremely dangerous.  We saw evidence of all of these activities during our cruise, and mention some specifics in the narrative below. In addition, the Cay Sal Bank is remote. There are occasional Coast Guard planes in the area, but keep in mind that there might not be many vessels able to monitor emergency radio channels (channel 16) or respond quickly to an emergency. We cruised to the region with a highly experienced crew and a very well maintained and outfitted vessel, and we recommend anyone else planning to visit do the same, as well as consider taking all available safety precautions. I am happy to discuss my experiences in detail with researchers interested in visiting the area.

Anolis fairchildi, Cay Sal Island. Photo by RGR.

Anolis fairchildi, Cay Sal Island. Photo by RGR.

We arrived on the bank at dawn after an overnight cruise from Bimini, where we had cleared Bahamas customs and immigration. Our first stop was Dog Rocks, where we were able to disembark and swim ashore for a short walkabout on the largest of the small rocks jutting out of the ocean. The Dog Rocks mark the eastern edge of the Cay Sal Bank, and as far as we were aware there were no herpetofaunal records from these islands. Most are rocky and jagged, likely washed over during hurricanes and largely devoid of vegetation. Great Dog Rock is quite small, with a patchy covering of ground vegetation. There is a single large, pyramid shaped stand of Cocoloba uvifera near the center of the island-

Cocoloba uvifera stand on Dog Rocks. Photo by Alberto Puente-Rolon.

Cocoloba uvifera stand on Dog Rocks. Photo by Alberto Puente-Rolon.

approximately 5 meters high and 10 meters wide. Quite a few Sooty Terns (Onychoprion fuscatus) and Brown Noddies (Anous stolidus) nest here. Even in this very isolated and largely barren stretch of rocks, we managed to locate Anolis sagrei. The large males and robust females were mostly occupying the Cocoloba stand, though we did find juveniles, young males, and females on the ground near the scrub vegetation. We even located a juvenile underneath a discarded conch (Strombus gigas) shell. We spent about two hours here, plenty of time to survey the entire island. We did not find evidence of any other terrestrial reptiles, and it is quite remarkable that even A. sagrei could persist there.

Departure from Cay Sal Island. Photo by RGR.

Departure from Cay Sal Island. Photo by RGR.

Our next stop was at the Damas Cays, a small group of narrow, high-walled islets jutting out along the spine of the eastern Cay Sal Bank. Like Dog Rocks, we are unaware of any herpetofaunal records from Damas, and for good reason. We took a rigid inflatable boat out for a brief survey of the largest of the Damas Cays. There are no easy landing spots on the island, so landing would require a swim. There was very little vegetation, we spotted a single small shrub and some very sparse groundcover. As we approached the island to land, we lost power on our outboard engine and were losing daylight, so we opted to repair the engine and not to clamber ashore.

Cay Sal Island. Photo by RGR.

Cay Sal Island. Photo by RGR.

We then cruised across the bank to the southwestern edge, about 80 km from Cuba. Continue reading Anole Surveys on the Cay Sal Bank, Bahamas

Cayman Islands Anolis Research

Amy in the field working on her first noose capture.

Amy in the field working on her first noose capture.

The following was written by Amy Castle, an undergraduate and Summer Research Fellow in the Reynolds Lab at the University of North Carolina Asheville.

This past May, I had the opportunity to join Dr. Geneva and his team in the Cayman Islands to assist with his research on Anolis sagrei. Along with my mentor, Dr. Graham Reynolds, we were able to spend several days on both Little Cayman and Grand Cayman catching anoles, collecting data, and experiencing the tropics. This experience (my first in the tropics) provided me with an immersive education in both Caribbean herpetology and the ins and outs of working in the field. My adventure began when Dr. Reynolds and I flew to Grand Cayman and then took a small plane to Little Cayman, which is approximately 100 km northeast from Grand Cayman. Flying over these islands gave a good perspective of the topography and available habitat for the lizards. Most of the former island, which is only 16km long and 3 km wide, is lightly inhabited and dominated by tropical coastal coppice forest developed over a limestone base. On the ground, I quickly discovered that the anoles are everywhere!

Dr. Geneva’s research focuses on Anolis sagrei, in particular, the extent of variation in the species across its wide range. We were on Little Cayman to get data from this island as a component of a larger study, described in lots of previous AA posts (Eleuthera, Cayman Islands, Rum CayConcepcion IslandRagged IslandBiminiMangrove habitat, and Great Isaac Cay).

Little Cayman Anolis sagrei.

Little Cayman Anolis sagrei.

These beautiful brown anoles were abundant day and night on the island and could be frequently found at eye level on the trunks and branches of mangrove and seagrape trees. They have brightly colored red-orange dewlaps, short snouts, and a smaller body size, especially when compared to their sympatric congener Anolis maynardi. Anolis maynardi,  large green anoles native to Little Cayman, are often found higher in the trees and have green dewlaps with a yellowish tint.


Little Cayman Anolis maynardi.

Little Cayman Anolis maynardi.

During the few days we were on Little Cayman, the weather was really hot and humid. During the heat of the day, A. sagrei ventured deeper into the brush of the forest making it difficult to trudge through the trees without scaring them off. We were, however, able to capture them from several feet away by using an extendable fishing rod with a tied noose at the end. This was my first experience noosing lizards, but after a few tries, I was consistently able to catch individuals. At night, the anoles were much easier to capture. Using our lights and headlamps, we could simply pluck them off the leaves and branches where they were sleeping.

Grand Cayman Anolis conspersus.

Grand Cayman Anolis conspersus.

After finishing data collection on Little Cayman, we headed to Grand Cayman to obtain export permits. I had the opportunity to see much of the island, including the endemic Anolis conspersus. These beautiful anoles have a large degree of color variation across Grand Cayman, and we were able to see at least two of the major color morphs. I was also able to meet some great people (Jessica and Jane) at the Department of Environment, who mentioned that they were finding non-native anoles on Grand Cayman. This developed quickly into a project idea- one of my research projects so far this summer is examining the DNA of these unknown anoles to try to determine what species they actually are and where they came from. A little bit of forensic genetics!

Graham Reynolds and Amy on Little Cayman.

Graham Reynolds and Amy on Little Cayman.

This experience gave me an exclusive look into the world of Caribbean field herpetologists, and was really valuable as I am currently an undergraduate studying Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. I am particularly interested in the Cuban green anole clade, and my research with Dr. Reynolds focuses on Anolis fairchildi, an endemic species found on Cay Sal Island in the Bahamas. I am currently generating genetic data from this species and other members of the clade in order to examine the phylogenetic affinities of A. fairchildi relative to other Cuban green anoles. This trip gave me the opportunity to not only observe wild  A. maynardi, a relative of A. fairchildi, but also to understand the complex relationships between sympatric anole species. It is one thing to study anoles “at the bench” in Asheville, but being able to join Dr. Geneva and his team in the field has really sparked my understanding of, and interest in, these fascinating animals.


Notes from the Field: Predation on Anolis sagrei on Isolated Cays in Abaco, Bahamas

Curly tail with brown anole tail visible from its mouth

Curly tail with brown anole tail visible from its mouth

Kayaking to the cays

Kayaking to cays

I was recently in Abaco, Bahamas with Losos lab post-doc Oriol LaPiedra and Ph.D. candidate Darío Fernández-Bellon from University College Cork, Ireland, to carry out some behavioral studies of Anolis sagrei on the island and its surrounding small cays. We kayaked (a highly recommended transportation mean for its lesser-impact on the marine ecosystem, not having to rely on the tide schedule, while allowing you to see rays and sharks and sea turtles!) our way out to islands that are known to have A. sagrei naturally existing alone, or with one of their natural predators, Leiocephalus carinatus.

Curly-tailed lizards are known to prey on A. sagrei and can have significant impact on anole behavior and adaptation. Twice I observed Leiocephalus capturing and consuming A. sagrei, one of which was an adult male and the other an adult female. We have also noticed that the A. sagrei on these island tend to perch higher and are seldomly seen on rocks or leveled ground compared to those on islands without curly tails, so this behavior could be an effect of Leiocephalus being present.

A female red-winged blackbird with a brown anole in its beak

A female red-winged blackbird with a A. sagrei in its beak

On a different island where Leiocephalus were absent, A. sagrei are still under predation pressure, this time by red-winged blackbirds nesting on the island. We observed a female blackbird with an A. sagrei in its beak waiting for us to leave the island so that it can feed its chicks. This observation suggests that A. sagrei on islands without Leiocephalus might still be under predation pressure by other species that might not be present on the island at all times. Also, predation pressure exerted by an aerial predator differs from that by a terrestrial predator or if both predators are present, so this might be a factor in morphological or behavioral changes in these lizards on these islands.

Anolis sagrei on one of the small cays

Other interesting observations include A. sagrei density on islands seems to be unintuitive. Some small islands with fewer perches hosted many more adult males and females than large islands did. Sizes of individuals also seem to vary greatly between different islands: small cay A. sagrei seem to be, on average, larger than those on mainland Abaco. Personally, I am unable to note major differences between islands which might have resulted in these observations. I’m excited to see if the data we’ve collected will give more insight into these observations as well as other behavioral results that will come from this study!

Dewlap Displays in Cuban Knight Anoles (A. equestris)

While exploring the grounds of Fairchild Tropical Botanical Gardens with Janson Jones this past weekend, we extremely fortunately happened upon a large adult male Cuban knight anole (A. equestris) in full displaying swing. Despite the fact that knight anoles have an impressively large dewlap, I have often found this to be a relatively rare event, as large crown-giant species tend to display less than other smaller and more active species. This individual was displaying at a height of ~15 m, just below the fronds of a large Royal Palm (Roystonea regia). We didn’t see any other neighboring knight anoles, so were unsure if this was a directed or passive display series. In all, this lizard performed perhaps 4-5 sets of dewlap displays (each comprising of 4-5 dewlap extensions) before stopping and retreating back into the canopy.


Anoles typically follow a predictable and repeated pattern of display that gradually increases in intensity. Initially, and rather lethargically, an individual will nonchalantly raise its head and extend its dewlap without much extra effort (stage a); described below from Losos (2009).

Adapted from Losos (2009), which itself is adapted from Losos (1985). Aggressive behavior of A. marconoi showing three stages of increasing display intensity - note stage (c) include full body elevation alongside simultaneous tail and dewlap extensions.

Adapted from Losos (2009), which itself is adapted from Losos (1985). Aggressive behavior of A. marconoi showing three stages of increasing display intensity – note stage (c) include full body elevation alongside simultaneous tail and dewlap extensions.



This then escalates to include a slight body raise (stage b).



And ultimately results in a dramatic finale – in full display all limbs will be extended to raise both their body from the substrate (in this case the trunk of a palm tree) and elevate their tail (stage c). In the following picture you can see this final stage of displaying where intensity peaks – albeit in this individual with a regenerated (and rather stubby) tail. Continue reading Dewlap Displays in Cuban Knight Anoles (A. equestris)

Temporal Variation in Structural Microhabitat Use of Phelsuma Geckos in Mauritius

Phelsuma ornata

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.



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.


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.


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.


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


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.”






“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.


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?


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!








Anolis sagrei Survey Continued: Eleuthera, The Bahamas

beach scrub and bay scenic 2

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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!