Transgenerational Effects Of Nutrition Observed In Anolis sagrei

Mothers affect the quality of their offspring. As humans, this seems obvious. For example, expecting mothers often take prenatal vitamins, limit their consumption of certain foods, and avoid kitty litter knowing that these minor environmental factors can affect the normal development of the fetus. Related statements could be made for the relationship of a mother and child after birth. Understanding the precise effects that parents have on their offspring has been of great interest to biologists from many disciplines as they disentangle the genetic and environmental factors that underlie differential survival and reproduction for individuals within a population (fitness). Because Anolis lizards can be easily maintained in captivity and their eggs readily manipulated they provide a useful model for the examination of maternal effects. Warner and Lovern took advantage of these qualities and tested the role of maternal body condition on offspring quality in the brown anole, Anolis sagrei.

A. sagrei from Cayman Brac

A. sagrei from Cayman Brac

Nutritional stress is a well-studied example of how maternal condition may affect juvenile quality; if the mother is malnourished the quality of her egg yolk may suffer, which, in turn, affects embryonic development. The authors tested this hypothesis in A. sagrei by manipulating the amount of food gravid females received, feeding approximately 168 crickets per lizard in a “high-prey” treatment versus 84 crickets in a “low-prey” treatment distributed over 11 weeks. During this time the authors carefully assessed the number and size (mass) of the eggs and, subsequently, the quality (mass-and-snout to vent length) of the hatchlings. Impressively, the authors didn’t stop there. They also experimentally manipulated the amount of nutrition in a subset of eggs by removing yolk with a syringe. Followed by a battery of statistical models, this study is quite a nice physiological analysis that has evolutionary implications.

When comparing the two diet regimes, Warner and Lovern found that body condition does affect the quality of offspring; females maintained on the “low-prey” diet produced eggs 6.6% smaller than females raised on the “high-prey” diet. In turn, smaller eggs also tended to hatch more quickly and smaller eggs produced smaller hatchlings, both probably due to the lower amount of available nutrition (paradoxically, neither incubation time or hatchling mass was directly correlated with maternal prey availability). Low prey availability also results in hatchlings with slower growth rates. The experimental reduction of egg yolk supports the results of the prey availability study: hatchlings from yolk-reduced females were 8% shorter and 23% lighter and grew more slowly than those hatched from unmanipulated eggs. It is clear from their results that nutrition has an effect on hatchling quality well into life, after the obvious maternal effects have passed. There are a number of other interesting correlations (and statistical caveats) described within the text that may also be of interest to some readers.

Figure 5 from Warner and Lovern 2014.

Figure 5 from Warner and Lovern 2014.

What is becoming clear from studies like these is that environmental stressors can have lasting effects on organismal development that transcend generational boundaries. Mechanistic studies, such as those on the American alligator, illustrate that these effects are mediated by heritable methylation patterns of key regulatory genes. The stressors do not need to be long lasting; physiological responses can result from acute events that occur within key developmental windows, often when a particular organ is maturing. While stressing the embryo too far results in abnormal embryonic development, more subtle effects may not arise until late in life or subsequent generations. Anoles, and A. sagrei in particular, may provide a number of opportunities for environmental health research in the future. Studies such as the one described above could be performed to more precisely dissect the organ-specific effects of maternal nutritional stress or whether the effects dissipate with age. Similar to the alligator studies, eggs laid in polluted soils may allow opportunities for developmental toxicology research. Growing genomic resources may allow for examination of genome-wide and gene-specific methylation patterns within and outside of polluted habitats. The possibilities are broad and the impact cannot be predicted at this time, but the potential is there for much more detailed mechanistic research on the relationship between developmental physiology and the environment.

New Guide on How to Preserve Material for Genetic Studies

herp book cover

Blurb: “This guide will allow nearly everyone with an interest in amphibians and reptiles to collect and store samples for genetic analyses. It is written at a level appropriate for people with a basic background in biology, including professional scientists moving into a new project as well as wildlife managers, conservation biologists, ecologists, and others working on herpetological projects. The book should also be useful for advanced undergraduates and graduate students just starting their research careers.”

See more at the SSAR book website.

Price: $11

Call for Assistance: Anolis sagrei

Hi Everyone, a quick post to see if anyone out there is interested in contributing to a large ongoing project on Anolis sagrei. We are sampling this species throughout the (mostly) native range, and currently have 77 sampling locations represented. However, we are wondering if anyone would be able to help us fill some remaining gaps.
We are interested in adding additional tissue samples from Central America and the Bahamas. Here is an approximate range map with some desired localities (in blue):

R Graphics Output

Any help is greatly appreciated. I realize that collecting tissues (not to mention all the paperwork) is not a trivial task, so if you are interested in contributing samples please get in touch with me. We will keep AA posted on this project!

Anolis ortonii Displaying

I had the opportunity to study abroad in Ecuador last year, an amazing experience which culminated in a one-month stay in the rainforest at the Tiputini Biodiversity Station located in Yasuni Biosphere Reserve.  The most common species of anole there was Anolis ortonii, if you knew where to look. Despite several written accounts of A. ortonii being found close to the ground, I observed them in high abundance about 150 feet in the air at the top of a ceiba tree made accessible by a canopy tower.

My experience with Anolis displays in the wild is next to nothing, but  from what little I’ve seen, this swaying seemed unusual to me. Perhaps the more experienced anolologists here can comment on this. Regardless, enjoy the video of a lesser-known mainland anole!

Turks and Caicos Anole: Anolis scriptus

Much of my research has been conducted on the herpetofauna of the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI). Known to a chunk of the lay public in North America as a sweet honeymoon spot, the Turks and Caicos boast a wonderful assemblage of terrestrial reptiles, like these IUCN critically endangered TCI iguanas (Cyclura carinata):


Of course, we on AA prefer the smaller saurians, so I will draw your attention to the TCI anole (A. scriptus scriptus), a member of the Southern Bahamas Anole complex (A. scriptus).

Anolis s. scriptus, Big Ambergris Cay, TCI

Anolis s. scriptus, Big Ambergris Cay, TCI

Also known as the Silver Cay Anole, A. scriptus can be found across the southern Bahamas banks, including the Inaguas, Samana, Plana Cays, Mayaguana, and the Turks and Caicos Islands. I have previously posted about this understudied species (1,2), but spent a good bit of time observing them on my last research trip. They occur throughout the TCI archipelago, from the dense tropical dry forest of North Caicos, to the pine savannas of Middle Caicos and xeric outposts like the Ambergris Cays. They can also be found on nearly every vegetated rock cay.



Male, Big Ambergris Cay


The males have an attractive yellow wash on the underside, with an orange-yellow dewlap that is really striking in the bright sun. The males display from elevated perches, but are wary when approached by nosy researchers.


The females are more cryptic, both in coloration and in behavior. They often have a light stripe down the back, or occasionally darker crossbars perpendicular to the light stripe.DSC_0977

On Big Ambergris Cay, on the southeastern edge of the Caicos Bank, the anoles especially favor an irrigated area near a decorative plant nursery. They are voracious, taking down large prey like this cicada (Ollanata caicosensis) on the right. Hopefully this voraciousness extends to interspecific interactions, as the “Festive” anole (A. sagrei) has now firmly invaded at least one island on the Caicos Bank (1; more on this in a future post).

Phylogenetically, Anolis scriptus is nested firmly within the radiation of Puerto Rican Anoles (most recently). Most closely related to a trunk-ground clade containing A. cristatellus, A. desechensis, and A. ernestwilliamsi, the TCI Anole exhibits a curious distribution, although they really do resemble A. cristatellus. Much of the terrestrial herpetofauna of the TCI is likely derived from Hispaniola (See TOC on this post), so what did A. scriptus do to get to the TCI? Our recent research on the A. cristatellus clade suggests that A. scriptus most likely dispersed from Puerto Rico around the start of the Pliocene. This could have been accomplished completely over-water, as currents and hurricanes push flotsam in a northwesterly direction from Puerto Rico. Alternatively, the species could have island-hopped on the formerly emergent Silver, Mouchoir, and Navidad banks, now a famous calving ground for the Humpback Whale.

Although I have not visited, the Crooked-Acklins Bank is a curious intersection of Bahamian and southern Bahamian herpetofauna, where the range of the southern A. scriptus (nearby Plana Cays) meets the range of the northern A. sagrei (Crooked Island). Furthermore, the bank is the northern limit of the Southern Bahamas Boa (Chilabothrus chrysogaster), which is replaced just a few kilometers northwest on the Great Bahama Bank by C. strigilatus. Finally, the handsome endemic A. brunneus (1,2,3) occurs there.




Aerial Behavior by Anolis pentaprion


Anolis pentaprion taxiing down the runway on a canopy tower at the La Selva Biological Station in Costa Rica. Photo by Vinicio Paniagua.

Anolis pentaprion taxiing down the runway on a canopy tower at the La Selva Biological Station in Costa Rica. Photo by Vinicio Paniagua.

Untitled-1Draco, the flying dragon, has borrowed an anole dewlap, so it’s only proper that anoles return the favor by developing gliding capabilities. It’s been long rumored that Anolis pentaprion, a twig anole from Central America, will launch itself off of perches in canopy and glide away, but now Steve Overbauer, Vinicio Paniagua, Craig Guyer and Mo Donnelly have documented just that in an interesting herpetological natural history note that appeared in the last issue of last year’s volume of Herp Review (Vol. 44, pp. 677-678).  Here’s what they have to say:

“Lizards with gliding or directed aerial descent behaviors are well known from the Old World Tropics (e.g., Draco, Ptychozoon), and snakes and frogs exhibiting these behaviors are found both in the Old and New World Tropics (Dudley et al. 2007. Annu. Rev. Ecol. Evol. Syst. 38:179–201). However, lizards showing directed aerial descent have not been reported from the New World Tropics. Here we report on directed aerial descent capability and behavior in Norops pentaprion, a canopy lizard from eastern Costa Rica, southern Nicaragua, and western Panama (Köhler 2010. Zootaxa 2354:1–18).

The initial discovery of this behavior in N. pentaprion was serendipitous in July 2001 when an individual was captured on a walk-up meteorological tower at canopy level (~ 25 m) at La Selva Biological Station in the Atlantic lowlands of Costa Rica. After identification, the animal was returned to the original location on the tower, but upon release to a horizontal tower brace, it executed a controlled aerial descent to a tree in the distance below. Individuals of N. pentaprion have been occasionally observed on our meteorological towers subsequent to our first observation of directed aerial descent. The lizards are typically at canopy level but are sometimes found well above the canopy on the highest levels of the towers (up to 42 m). While the typical response of N. pentaprion to the presence of personnel on the tower is to race down the tower or hide on the opposite side of vertical supports, the animals will occasionally jump from the tower to escape when approached. Since 2001 we have observed directed aerial descent by N. pentaprion from canopy towers on several occasions. In at least two instances the lizard landed at lower levels on the tower, but in other occurrences they covered substantial distance to adjacent trees including aerial rotations of near 180º. During more than one observation, animals appeared to glide with near-horizontal trajectories towards termination of the descent. Similar to some snakes, frogs, lizards, and ants showing directed aerial descent, N. pentaprion does not have strongly specialized features associated with gliding behavior such as skin flaps, skin extensions, or webbed feet. Norops pentaprion has a relatively flattened head and wide body. During aerial descent this lizard proceeds headfirst, with limbs partially extended and the body strongly flattened, a position that may take advantage of regions of relatively loose skin along the sides of the body (Guyer and Donnelly 2005. Amphibians and Reptiles of La Selva, Costa Rica, and the Caribbean Slope, Univ. California Press, Berkeley, California. 299 pp.).

At La Selva Biological Station this species is uncommon in the understory and is usually found on trees limbs. Norops pentaprion is a member of a closely-related group of anoline lizards subjected to a recent analysis of morphology and morphometrics (Köhler, op. cit.); these related taxa share similar body size characteristics with N. pentaprion and are frequently arboreal. Future observations of some of these species may result in the discovery of similar directed-aerial descent behavior. Canopy pioneer Donald Perry reported lizards with a rose dewlap parachuting between trees in the canopy in Costa Rican forests (Perry 1986. Life Above the Jungle Floor, Simon and Schuster, Inc. New York, New York. 170 pp.), but the species was not identified. In their description of Norops pentaprion, Guyer and Donnelly (op. cit.) indicated that parachuting behavior likely occurs in this species on the basis of our initial observations and those of Perry. Our repeated observations verify directed aerial descent in this species and confirm that the lizard observed by Perry was N. pentaprion, the only lizard in the region with magenta dewlap coloration.”

More Studies on Anole Chromosomes


When it rains, it pours. Research on the immense diversity in anole chromosomes was rampant in the 1970’s and early 1980’s, and then…nothing. Until, that is, the last two months. Not one, but two, papers appeared in Evolution, and now AA has learned of a paper on chromosomal variation in Norops clade anoles, recently published in Zoological Studies (click for a downloadable pdf). The paper, by Castiglia et al., examines karyotypes in Norops anoles and argues that karyological variation is in some cases consistent with our understanding of phylogenetic relationships within the group.

Background: Neotropical lizards, genus Anolis (Polychrotidae), with nearly 380 species, are members of one of the most diversified genera among amniotes. Herein, we present an overview of chromosomal evolution in ‘beta’ Anolis (Norops group) as a baseline for future studies of the karyotypic evolution of anoles. We evaluated all available information concerning karyotypes of Norops, including original data on a recently described species, Anolis unilobatus. We used the phylogeny of Norops based on DNA sequence data to infer the main pattern of chromosomal evolution by means of an ancestral state analysis (ASR).

Results: We identified 11 different karyotypes, of which 9 in the species had so far been used in molecular studies. The ASR indicated that a change in the number of microchromosomes was the first evolutionary step, followed by an increase in chromosome numbers, likely due to centric fissions of macrochromosomes. The ASR also showed that in nine species, heteromorphic sex chromosomes most probably originated from six independent events.

Conclusions: We observed an overall good correspondence of some characteristics of karyotypes and species relationships. Moreover, the clade seems prone to sex chromosome diversification, and the origins of five of these heteromorphic sex chromosome variants seem to be recent as they appear at the tip nodes in the ancestral character reconstruction. Karyotypic diversification in Norops provides an opportunity to test the chromosomal speciation models and is expected to be useful in studying relationships among anole species and in identifying cryptic taxa.

Available Now: A New, Large Phylogeny of Anoles

BEAST estimated phylogeny of anoles. Circles on nodes represent posterior probability, black > 0.95, grey > 0.90, white > 0.70.

BEAST estimated phylogeny of anoles. Circles on nodes represent posterior probability, black > 0.95, grey > 0.90, white > 0.70.

In the course of our recent study on sex chromosome evolution in anoles (Gamble et al. in press) [AA post] we assembled a 216-species mitochondrial DNA phylogeny of anoles, the largest published to date (at least that we know of), yet containing only a little more than half of all recognized species. Although we collected new sequences for some species, our dataset is largely built on the hard work of others who collected and published on sequences from across the genus, such as Jackman et al. 1999, Poe 2004, Nicholson et al. 2005,  Mahler et al. 2010 [AA post], and Castañeda & de Quieroz 2011 [AA post].  Without access to data from these and other studies, we would have had a far less complete and robust tree for our comparative analyses.

There is a big debate going on now regarding what, where and how much data should be shared in association with publishing academically. I personally feel that providing easy access to those data used and generated during a study serves to accelerate the rate and increase the quality of scientific discovery. I am heartened that more and more journals are making data deposition a requirement for publication, although often this means little more than dumping sequence data to GenBank. Sites like Dryad, Figshare, and GitHub now provide open, permanent, and citable access to raw data, figures and, most importantly in my view, research products like alignments, code and analysis logs. In an effort to make our data as accessible and useful as possible we have archived our alignment, MrBayes and BEAST consensus trees as well as as the BEAST posterior distribution on the digital data repository Dryad [doi link]. It is our hope that other anolologists can use and improve upon these data to ask new, interesting questions and to build a larger, more complete view of the evolution of anoles.

How to Set Up a Lizard Room to House and Breed Anoles

Thinking of setting up a room to maintain and breed lizards for research projects? Back in 2011, the good folks in the Glor Lab–which has done a stupendous job at breeding A. distichus–shared their accumulated knowledge in an 11-part series. Given the fog of memory, it seemed like a good time to remind the world of the existence of this primer, and put the links all together in one place.

So, with no further ado, here are the 11 posts in the “Evolution of a Lizard Room” undecology:

1: Introduction

2: Maintaining humidity

3: The watering wand

4: Crickets

5: The Shopvac

6: Generating food in house

7: Egg-laying

8: Egg inculation

9: Toe clipping

10: Custom cages for breeding experiments

11: Butterfly Cages

For another source of information, check-out the manual put together by the Brodie Lab at the University of Virginia.

What Makes Anolis Communities Complete?

One of my favorite graphic representations of a typical anole community is the one where all ecomorphs are hanging out together in a tree and a scrub next to said tree. Each ecomorph has its structural microhabitat place and they are all spaced out evenly across the tree to represent competition. Originally the figure was published by Williams (1983) and then modified later on. Arriving on the Greater Antilles, one thus expects to promptly be able to say hi to all these ecomorphs at the next best tree. Well, from my personal experience, I can tell you that this is unfortunately not the case.

Idealized representation

Localities where all ecomorphs are found together are scarce, and all of them are famous, having served as field sites for the most groundbreaking of anole discoveries. But what about the rest of them? Something must prevent the co-occurrence of ecomorphs in all these other places. This was noted before: Losos (2009) remarked that all utilized structural microhabitats exploited by all ecomorphs are present throughout the islands, so “complete” ecomorph communities should also be able to occur everywhere.

A common explanation for the absence of certain  “functional types” (= Anolis ecomorphs) from local communities is a process that is called “filtering.” Modern community assembly theory distinguishes two such types of filters: 1. Biotic interaction filters and 2. Environmental filters.


Biotic filtering involves competitive exclusion: For anoles this phenomenon caused ecological speciation which led to the convergent evolution of the ecomorph communities. But biotic filtering should not be expected to occur at this stage of the radiation: Different ecomorphs are not competing for the same structural microhabitat niche in different localities. This leaves environmental filtering. In our study recently published in Ecology and Evolution, on which I am reporting here, we tested whether environmental filtering could be a possible explanation for the absence of ecomorphs in local communities.

First, we modeled Anolis ecomorph community completeness by constructing environmental niche models for each ecomorph (the sum of species belonging to that ecomorph) on each island. These models were then overlaid for all ecomorphs per island.  ECC map

 The map for ecomorph community completeness shows a very patchy distribution of areas where all ecomorphs are expected to occur. Comparisons of environmental niches among these islands revealed that only Hispaniola and Cuba have their complete Anolis ecomorph communities occurring in a similar bioclimatic parameter space.

This patchiness could be explained by elevation for all islands except Jamaica: the Anolis community completeness map strongly resembles the topographic relief of the Greater Antilles. Looking more closely into the climatic parameters, Jamaica has much lower daily and annual temperature ranges which are also not related to the island’s elevation, whereas in the rest of the Greater Antillean islands, they are. Occurrence probability of ecomorphs seems to be coupled to environmental parameters, which explains why some ecomorphs are “filtered out“ in some locations: they do not encounter a favorable environment there.

Since I mentioned initially that filtering relates to “functional types” (not species), the filtering must be a result of certain functional properties of the Anolis ecomorphs’ phenotype. We wanted to take the study a step further and actually investigate one (among many) possible functional trait: body mass. Continue reading What Makes Anolis Communities Complete?

Advice Needed: Field Sites for A. sagrei in Florida

Anolis sagrei. Photo by Janson Jones.

I’m planning an in-depth behavioral study of Anolis sagrei for the summer and need your help finding suitable field sites in Florida.

My ideal location would have the following traits:

– Abundant A. sagrei in an area large enough to support at least 50 adult males

– Relatively open understory

– Not heavily trafficked by people (I’d like to minimize the frequency of behavioral trials being disrupted by inquisitive passersby), but still safe to work in

– Management receptive to researchers

Does anyone know of protected areas, biological or agricultural field stations, or other underutilized green spaces that might fit the bill? I’m open to locations throughout the state.

Thanks in advance for any suggestions!

Exploring the Anolis Y Chromosome

Sex chromosomes have historically been identified by inspecting chromosome spreads under a light microscope and looking for a morphologically distinct or heteromorphic pair of chromosomes – typically and X and Y or a Z and W. However, heteromorphic sex chromosomes are absent in many animal groups, particularly fish, amphibians, and lizards, making it difficult to determine whether a species with genetic sex determination has an XY or ZW system. As a consequence, the study of sex chromosome evolution in clades in which cryptic or homomorphic sex chromosomes are prevalent has been hampered by a lack of identified sex chromosomes in these groups. New methods are needed to find the sex chromosomes in these species and increase our understanding of homomorphic sex chromosome biology, the evolution of sex determining systems, and patterns of sex chromosome evolution overall.

David Zarkower and I have a paper in press at Molecular Ecology Resources that uses high-throughput DNA sequencing to identify sex-specific genetic markers as a means to reveal sex chromosome systems in species that lack heteromorphic sex chromosomes. We are using a newly developed DNA sequencing technique called restriction site associated DNA sequencing or RAD-seq. RAD-seq sequences the DNA flanking very specific DNA sequences (restriction enzyme recognition sites) scattered throughout the genome, generating tens of thousands of genetic markers. RAD-seq is a powerful technique for exploring genetic variation in ‘nonmodel’ species because it does not require a fully sequenced genome, requires relatively modest sequencing capacity, and can detect even minor genetic differences among individuals. We are using RAD-seq to 1) identify sex-specific molecular markers (i.e., bits of DNA found in individuals from one sex but not the other), and 2) using these markers to determine whether a species has XY or ZW sex chromosomes. Species with male-specific markers will have an XY system while species with female-specific will have a ZW system.

We are interested in using RAD-seq to screen various vertebrate species for sex chromosomes, but first wanted to validate the technique using a species with a known sex-determining mechanism. We chose the green anole (Anolis carolinensis) because its X and Y chromosomes are small and homomorphic. Therefore A. carolinensis sex chromosomes should provide a rigorous test of this technique and success with Anolis suggests there may be broad utility using this technique in other groups with homomorphic sex chromosomes.

We performed RAD-seq on seven male and ten female A. carolinensis and recovered one male-specific molecular marker. We confirmed that the marker was male-specific using PCR and also found that this genetic marker is conserved in some additional Anolis species, confirming homology among the Y chromosomes of these species (Anolis sex chromosome homology has been discussed previously on Anole Annals 1, 2). These results highlight the potential utility of RAD-seq as a tool to discover the sex chromosome systems of large numbers of species in a rapid, cost-effective manner.

PCR validation of the male-specific RAD-seq marker in Anolis carolinensis.

PCR validation of the male-specific RAD-seq marker in Anolis carolinensis.

In addition to learning about Anolis sex chromosomes the male-specific molecular marker we identified can be used to sex individuals of many Anolis species using a simple PCR-based assay, particularly species in the A. carolinensis group and in the Norops clade. This enables identification of an individual’s sex prior to the onset of secondary sexual characteristics, for example in embryos, thereby aiding developmental studies of sexually dimorphic phenotypes. The importance of sexual dimorphism to Anolis ecology and evolution has been examined previously (1, 2, 3, 4), but there is certainly much more to learn, particularly about how sexually dimorphic traits develop and evolve. The ability to sex Anolis embryos is an important step to advance this research.

Phylogenetic relationships among sampled species illustrating the sex-specific amplification of the gene rtdr1y in selected anole species. The autosomal gene kank1 was used as an internal positive control in all reactions. Bands labelled with ‘NS’ are nonspecific PCR products.

Phylogenetic relationships among sampled anoles illustrating the sex-specific amplification of the gene rtdr1y in selected anole species. The autosomal gene kank1 was used as an internal positive control in all PCR reactions. Bands labelled with ‘NS’ are nonspecific PCR products.

Nine Caribbean Skinks Petitioned for Inclusion on Endangered Species List

A while back, we reported on a monograph Hedges and Conn that described an enormous number of new skink species (35) from the Caribbean. Now efforts are being made to prevent some of these species from going extinct. The Center for Biological Diversity has just filed a petition with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service asking that nine Caribbean skink species be placed on the Endangered Species List. Those species are: Culebra Skink (Spondylurus culebrae), Mona Skink (Spondylurus monae), Monito Skink (Spondylurus monitae), Lesser Virgin Islands Skink (Spondylurus semitaeniatus), Virgin Islands Bronze Skink (Spondylurus sloanii), Puerto Rican Skink (Spondylurus nitidus), Greater Saint Croix Skink (Spondylurus magnacruzae), Greater Virgin Islands Skink (Spondylurus spilonotus) and Lesser Saint Croix Skink (Capitellum parvicruzae).

A press release from the CBD explains all:

“The Center for Biological Diversity filed a formal petition today seeking Endangered Species Act protection for nine newly identified species of skinks found only in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. These rare lizards with smooth skins are on the knife’s edge of extinction due to introduced predators and habitat destruction. Reptiles around the globe are in the midst of an extinction crisis with roughly 1 in 5 species considered endangered or at risk of disappearing.

Puerto Rican skink
Puerto Rican skink photo © Puerto Rico Wildlife/Alfredo Colón ( Photos and maps are available for media use.

“Time is running out for these lizards,” said Collette Adkins Giese, a Center biologist and lawyer focused on protecting reptiles and amphibians. “The Caribbean is home to extremely rare animals found nowhere else in the world, but too many have already gone extinct. To save these skinks, we need to get them protected under the Endangered Species Act.”

Scientists recently recognized the nine petitioned skinks, along with dozens of others on Caribbean islands. The scientists initiated their study after finding unusually large genetic differences among populations of these skinks on different islands in the Caribbean. All of the newly identified endemic Caribbean skinks are near extinction (or already extinct) due to introduced predators like mongooses and cats, as well as large-scale habitat destruction for development and agriculture.

This loss is alarming because reptiles play important roles as predators and prey in their ecosystems and they’re valuable indicators of environmental health. The animals in today’s petition will reap life-saving benefits from the Endangered Species Act, which has a 99 percent success rate at staving off extinction for species under its care.

“Skinks have a slow-moving curiosity and are not adapted to fast predators such as the mongoose, introduced by humans,” said Dr. Blair Hedges of Pennsylvania State University, the lead author of the 2012 study that recognized the petitioned species. “The survival of these skinks depends on the special measures of protection that only the Endangered Species Act can provide.”

Although reptiles have been around for hundreds of millions of years and survived every major extinction period, now, due largely to human impacts, they’re dying off at up to 10,000 times the historic extinction rate. About 20 percent of reptiles in the world are endangered or vulnerable to extinction. Within the Caribbean, scientists estimate that reptiles have levels of endangerment that are at or near the highest levels worldwide.

The Center was joined in its petition for these nine skinks by Dr. Renata Platenberg, an ecologist specializing in Caribbean reptiles.

The petitioned-for Caribbean skinks, which can grow to be about 8 inches long, are unique among reptiles in having reproductive systems most like humans, including a placenta and live birth. They have cylindrical bodies, and most have ill-defined necks that, together with their sinuous movements and smooth, bronze-colored skin, make them look like stubby snakes.

Four of the species for which we petitioned are found within the territory of Puerto Rico: the Culebra skink (Culebra and the adjacent islet of Culebrita), Mona skink (Mona Island), Monito skink (Monito Island) and Puerto Rican skink (Puerto Rico and several of its satellite islands). The remaining five are found in the Virgin Islands: the Greater St. Croix skink (St. Croix and its satellite Green Cay), Lesser St. Croix skink (St. Croix), Greater Virgin Islands skink (St. John and St. Thomas), Lesser Virgin Islands skinks (St. Thomas and two adjacent islets, several British Virgin Islands) and Virgin Islands bronze skink (St. Thomas and several of its islets, several British Virgin Islands).

Eight of the nine petitioned-for species fall within the genus Spondylurus, and one falls within the genus Capitellum. The genus Spondylurusincludes what are now known as the Antillean four-lined skinks because of the four major dark stripes on their back and sides. Skinks in the genus Capitellum are called the Antillean small-headed skinks and have small feet and short heads, lacking dark dorsolateral stripes.”

The entire petition can be downloaded from the CBD’s website.

Mindo Amphibian and Reptile Book Now Available in US

While on the theme of Ecuador from yesterday’s post on 25 newly described Ecuadorian herps…Word has just reached AA‘s ears that the fabulous Amphibians and Reptiles of Mindo is now available in the U.S. You can order it from Eagle Mountain Publishing, which also sells a lot of great old reptile and amphibian books at rock bottom prices.

In celebration of this great event, we’re re-printing the review posted a few months ago:

The team at Tropical Herping has done it again! This time, a fabulous, lavish, luscious, information-packed guide to the spectacular herpetofauna of Mindo Parish, Ecuador. Originally available online, the book is now available in print. I had the privilege of writing the foreword, appended below. More information is available on the TH website, as well as an order form.


Small in size, but a global giant in biodiversity, Ecuador is awash in all manner of fauna and flora. Birds, butterflies, trees—the country is a hotspot for just about everything. But no group of organisms is more beautiful, more charismatic, more scientifically captivating than Ecuador’s reptiles and amphibians. The Amazon rainforest dominates the attention of the public, but other parts of the country, especially the mountainous regions, are just as biologically rich. One such area is the small parish of Mindo in Pichincha Province, home to 102 species of creepy crawlies. And what an ensemble! Brilliant colors, toxic skin and venom, sweet serenades, menacing looks, gorgeous displays—this region is an encyclopedia of herpetology in just 268 square kilometers.

Field guides play an essential role in making the fauna and flora of an area widely accessible. They are at the front line of nature education and conservation, the place where the fruits of scientific exploration are distilled, synthesized, packaged, and presented to the public at large. Since the time of Roger Tory Peterson, field guides have played another role, being a venue for beautiful, yet accurate, scientific illustration, allowing readers to not only understand the identifying marks of each species, but also to appreciate them esthetically.

Despite its bountiful herpetofauna, until now no field guides existed for Ecuador’s amphibians and Reptiles. The Tropical Herping team has brilliantly stepped into this void, producing a guide to the herps of Mindo that hopefully will serve both as a model of how guides should be produced and an inspiration to the production of similar efforts elsewhere in Ecuador and beyond. The Amphibians and Reptiles of Mindo is particularly notable in three respects. First is the breadth and depth of information provided for each of Mindo’s species. These authors know their fauna in exquisite detail and have synthesized that knowledge in a clear and lucid manner. The inclusion of frog calls, recorded by the authors themselves, is an added bonus bridging the paper and digital eras. Second, the public often does not understand the connection between scientific research and the information presented in field guides, magazine articles and nature documentaries. Unlike most field guides, The Amphibians and Reptiles of Mindo makes this link crystal clear, providing citations so that readers know where to turn to learn more. Indeed, especially impressive is the fact that the authors did a great deal of field work themselves to round out knowledge of these species, presenting that information for the first time here. Finally, third, the book is simply beautiful. The photographs are simply stunning and the maps and other illustrations lovely as well.

The publication of The Amphibians and Reptiles of Mindo could not come at a better time. The Mindo region is a microcosm for all that ails the natural world. Deforestation, habitat fragmentation, pollution, overharvesting—all are threats. Mindo has one thing going for in its favor—it has become a nature vacation travel destination, providing jobs and economic rationale for preserving natural habitats. But, ecotourism can be a two-edged sword, as people and development are drawn to the area with potentially negative consequences. Mindo has the opportunity to show how responsible stewardship can be mutually beneficial to man and nature, and this lovely book shows what is at stake. Three cheers for the three authors of this magnificent volume. Long live the herpetofauna of Mindo!

Ecuadorian Anoles on BBC News


During the last five years, herpetologists at the Museo de Zoología QCAZ, Pontificia Universidad Católica del Ecuador (PUCE), have discovered and described 35 new species of amphibians and reptiles, some of which are anoles. BBC news recently posted a photographic article on this work, which was funded by the Ecuadorian government and PUCE. Anolis otongae and A. podocarpus are some of the recently discovered species featured in that article.

The Museo de Zoología QCAZ also maintains ReptiliaWebEcuador, a website on Ecuadorian reptiles with tons of information in Spanish, including pictures, maps, free downloads, and more. Visit us if you want to know more about Ecuadorian anoles.

Film on Haiti Herpetological Exploration to Premiere at Film Festivals

We’ve reported previously on the expedition to Haiti led by Blair Hedges of Penn State that led to the rediscovery of A. darlingtoni as well as many other important herpetological finds. Now a film about this expedition, the sad state of Haiti’s environment and efforts to protect it and its fauna is being showcased at several film festivals around the world.

Extinction in Progress premieres at the Environmental Film Festival in Washington, D.C. on March 19th and subsequently will be shown at festivals in Seoul (South Korea), Torino (Italy), Zaragoza (Spain), Goías (Brazil) and Prizren (Kosovo).

extinction in progress

Yes, that’s Anolis rupinae!