Anole Celebration of Darwin’s Day

Happy Darwin’s day everybody!

Darwin Day

This is the third serial year in which I have remembered Darwin Day in Anole Annals. In the first time, Jonathan Losos made a wise comment in citing the words of Darwin about an anole (read his comment here). That’s why, this year, I have added two pages from ‘The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex’ in which Darwin wrote about the sexual selection of Anolis cristatellus and Sitana.

 

Continue reading Anole Celebration of Darwin’s Day

Anolis Comparative Genomics Underway!

There was a lot of discussion last month about the fabulous anole goings-on at the SICB meetings. However, there were other conferences sporting important anole work over the holidays. One of them was International Plant and Animal Genome XXII, described as “the largest AG-genomics meeting in the world” and held in San Diego in early January. Perhaps not a venue at which you’d expect anole work to be discussed, but there was Poster #720:

Mining the Most Species-Rich Amniote Genus: de novo Sequencing of Three Anole Lizards for Comparative Genomic Analysis #P720

Date: Monday, January 13
10:00 am – 11:30 am

Description:

Presenters: Marc Tollis Arizona State UniversityElizabeth D. Hutchins Arizona State UniversityWalter L. Eckalbar Arizona State UniversityMichael R. Crusoe Arizona State UniversityCatherine M. May Arizona State UniversityJessica Stapley Smithsonian Tropical Research InstituteElise Kulik Arizona State UniversityMatt J. Huentelman Translational Genomics Research InstituteRebecca E. Fisher University of ArizonaKenro Kusumi Arizona State University

P720 – Mining the Most Species-Rich Amniote Genus: de novo Sequencing of Three Anole Lizards for Comparative Genomic Analysis

The repeated evolution of morphological adaptations to specific ecological niches makes Anolis lizards a spectacular example of adaptive radiation in vertebrates, and an ideal model for comparative genomics. The complete genome of the green anole (A. carolinensis) has already provided insights to the evolution of genomic and phenotypic variation in vertebrates. A multi-species comparison within the Anolis genus would increase the power of studies seeking to understand the genomic bases of species diversification. We carried out de novo whole genome sequencing and draft assembly of three species, the grass anole (A. auratus), the bridled anole (A. frenatus), and the slender anole (A. apletophallus). Here we report some of our preliminary comparative genomic findings. Analysis of the abundance and diversity of transposable elements within these genomes has revealed repetitive landscapes typical of non-mammalian vertebrates, yet variation between Anolis species is greater than what is observed across most mammals. This may have provided a genomic environment amenable to key adaptations during the Anolis radiation. Using well-defined models such as mouse and chicken, we identified orthologous genes integral to myogenesis and limb development, and are beginning to catalogue interspecific variation in protein-coding genes and cis-regulatory motifs. Functional anatomical and histological studies are being performed to quantify the tail and hindlimb muscle groups of these species compared to A. carolinensis. Our ultimate goal is to identify the divergent alleles associated with ecological speciation, thus bridging the genotype-phenotype gap.

Brown Anoles in Tree Islands

A recent trip to the Everglades with Palm botanist Sara Edelman was meant to provide a welcome break from studying for qualifying exams, and give her the opportunity to further educate me on all things palm (which was previously limited to determining which lizards in Miami appear to live on them).

After spending the morning locating individuals of her study species, the native and state-threatened Paurotis palm (Acoelorrhaphe wrightii), we had received very little wildlife luck (which was the true reason for me volunteering to ‘help’). From past visits, I had found brown anoles (Anolis sagrei) at every car park along the Everglades National Park road down to Flamingo, likely hitch-hiking unwittingly on visitors cars, but to my knowledge they had yet to disperse convincingly out from these. On our second to last survey of the day, to this tree island off the main road just south of Mahogany Hammock, while searching for native green anoles (Anolis carolinensis) which I had yet to see, I heard some rustling in the bushes – lo and behold, sitting there as bold as day signalling straight at me was a male brown anole!

Everglades tree island characterised by Paurotis palm (Acoelorrhaphe wrightii), Saw palmetto (Serenoa repens), Buttonwood (Conocarpus sp.) and Pine (Pinus sp.), and inset brown anole (Anolis sagrei) observed inside

Everglades tree island characterised by Paurotis palm (Acoelorrhaphe wrightii), Saw palmetto (Serenoa repens), Buttonwood (Conocarpus sp.) and Pine (Pinus sp.), with [inset] brown anole (Anolis sagrei) observed inside

Now, observing brown anoles here shouldn’t be a surprise, should it? After all they are already in many surrounding places accessible by car, therefore it was only a matter of time before they spread further afield. However, areas like these in the Everglades may represent one of the last refuges of green anoles from introduced non-native species found everywhere else in south Florida (an idea I mentioned here a few months ago). Tree islands are masses of larger vegetation (unsurprisingly characterised by trees) formed gradually as vegetation clumps in the slow moving Everglades flow. Over time, debris from colonising plants raises the ground level just above surrounding water level, meaning they provide important havens for many wildlife species. During the wet season the dispersal potential for brown anoles would be limited. All of the areas surrounding tree islands are generally inundated, meaning landscape movement through the thin-stemmed sawgrass plains may be easier for more nimble footed green anoles, however somewhat less graceful for browns. This, however, is all hypothetical.

So ruling out human-mediated release or dropping by a clumsy predator, we could assume that this chap arrived there all by himself. This would suggest that brown anoles have no problems in traversing through sawgrass, although temporal factors may be important (i.e. dispersing during the dry season when water levels are low or absent).

The implications for the expansion of this species through the Everglades remain unclear, although their relationship with green anoles leads to a predictable outcome (discussed extensively on AA [1, 2, 3). Just how much effect is a highly fecund, hyper-dense, extremely competitive and resilient insectivore going to have on these small ‘island’ ecosystems?

Display Behaviour in Anolis sagrei: Deterring Predators, Daunting Opponents or Drawing Partners?

A.sagrei_M&F_Sorao

Male and female A. sagrei at the famous Soroa, Cuba locality.

Anole displays consist of conspicuous behaviors that are known to be used in multiple contexts, such as exhibiting territory ownership and territory defense, mate attraction and female receptivity, species recognition, and even predator deterrence. As most of you know, the display repertoire typically involves three major signal types: “dewlap extensions” (DE, pulsing of the throat fan or dewlap), “push-ups” (PU, up and down movement of the body and tail), and “head-nods” (HN, up and down movement of the head only). Although the visual display behavior in anoles has been extensively studied, the function of these three major signal types (DE, PU and HN) remains highly equivocal, and especially in the brown anole. Therefore, we decided to set up a behavioral experiment addressing DE, PU and HN signaling rates across diverse contexts, using the brown anole as study species.

Our study differed from previous ones in two main aspects. Whereas most other studies have focused on male signaling only, we looked to the three separate signal types in both male and female lizards. Secondly, our study is the first one to compare display rates across a wide range of contexts using the same individuals over again (repeated-measures design). This design could, however, only work under fully-controlled laboratory testing conditions. The diverse contexts we tested included predator, non-predator and several social interactions (i.e., mirror, male-male, male-female and female-male). For the predator and non-predator interactions, we used a living curly-tailed and equally-sized ocellated spiny-tailed lizard, respectively; the social context involved only conspecific interactions. Rather than examining display structure, we focused on the frequency with which each individual signal type was performed.

What did our results show? We found that brown anoles of both sexes exhibited higher display rates in the presence of conspecifics than when confronted with a predator or non-predator. DE, PU, and HN seem to be of main importance during brown anole social interactions, and thus not in predator deterrence. Whereas the females did not significantly raise display rates in response to a mirror or during intersexual interactions compared to a control situation, males did. The PU signal type only appears to play a major role for brown anole males during aggressive encounters. On the other hand, increased frequencies of all signal types during male-female interactions suggest that DE, PU, and HN are all essential for male courtship.

Staged intersexual interactions in the brown anole

Staged intersexual interactions in the brown anole

Finally, we suggest that intersexual selection is probably a driving force for frequency-related dewlap use in both sexes (we found a very strong, but not significant, trend that females increased their DE frequency only during female-male interactions). In contrast, pronounced intersexual differences were detected for PU and HN rates within a social context. I would like to mention once more that all our behavioral experiments were conducted under controlled laboratory conditions and that caution is needed on the general interpretation of our findings.

To end, I would like to say that we did experience some difficulties in comparing our PU and HN results with results from previous studies on brown anole display behavior, due to an inconsistent terminology found in the literature. Authors have variously used the terms “nod,” “headnod,” “bob,” “headbob” and “pushup” to refer to the stereotyped bobbing display and it is not always clear which movements correspond exactly to which terms (e.g., only head movement, only front legs, whole body movement including/excluding tail). Partan et al. (2011) did a very nice job by discussing several bobbing display terms in her paper, but still we think there is need for a more consistent and defined “bobbing” terminology. In this way, pooling display datasets and comparing display results will become more efficient and accurate, which in turn may lead to better “anole science”!

Driessens, T., Vanhooydonck, B., Van Damme, R. 2014. Deterring predators, daunting opponents or drawing partners? Signaling rates across diverse contexts in the lizard Anolis sagrei. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 68:173–184.

Trunk-ground Anoles Living in High Rises

This weekend I recently saw an adult male Cuban brown anole (Anolis sagrei) perching higher than I have ever observed – roughly 4m high!

Adult male Cuban brown anole (Anolis sagrei) perching uncharacteristically high

Adult male Cuban brown anole (Anolis sagrei) perching uncharacteristically high

So anole aficionados, what dizzying heights have you observed trunk-ground anoles up to?

*My apologies for the poor quality of the zoomed in sections.

Female Display in Anolis cristatellus, and a Call For Your Observations!

In species of Anolis where females have dewlaps, we know very little about exactly how females use their dewlaps. Losos (2009) describes this lamentable situation thus:

“Unfortunately, little is known about how females use their dewlaps, and the little information that is available from three species permits few generalities. Anolis carolinensis females only rarely use their dewlaps in intersexual displays (Jenssen et al., 2000), whereas female A. valencienni use their dewlaps primarily to discourage courting males, including those of other species (Hicks and Trivers, 1983). Both A. carolinensis and A. bahorucoensis females use their dewlaps in intrasexual displays (Orrell and Jenssen, 1998, 2003); in A carolinensis, females use the dewlap more at close range and less at long range in female-female interactions compared to dewlap use in male-male interactions (Jenssen et al., 2000; Orrell and Jenssen, 2003). Unfortunately, without more information on how females use their dewlaps, we will not be able to explain sexual dimorphism and dichromatism in anole dewlaps.”

Since then, Martha Muñoz has added an observation from A. armouribut the numbers are still small.

Attempted forced copulation in Anolis cristatellus

Attempted forced copulation in Anolis cristatellus

In July 2013, I spent ten days observing A. cristatellus in Mayagüez, Puerto Rico, and can add one more species to the list of female anoles that use their dewlaps to dissuade males from mating with them. I was mapping male territories and counting male-male interactions in a park in one of Mayagüez’s fancier neighbourhoods, and came across a male chasing after a female. I sat down to watch the interaction, and was struck by how determined the female seemed to avoid mating with this male. You’ll notice how the male is biting the female much lower down the body than is normal during mating, indicating how the female is trying to get away. Her dewlap is completely extended during this interaction.

The chase went on for several minutes before the female ran to the end of a thin branch and another male showed up to chase the first male away. I proceeded to catch and mark this second male, and later observations revealed him to be the resident territory holder of the tree.

A little later, we caught a male in the tree adjacent to one in which the showdown occurred. In a fantastic stroke of luck that anyone whose work depends on identifying individual animals in the field will appreciate, we were able to determine that this male from the adjacent tree was in fact the first of the two males observed earlier.

How, you ask, did we perform this forensic  wizardry? Observe the second tiny tail of the interloper attempting the forced copulation:IMG_3259

 

Caught red-handed!

I was showing these photos to Jonathan Losos the other day, and he immediately noted that the observation of a female using her dewlap was pretty rare. Of course, the obvious response was to write a blogpost about it, but then we realised that with Anole Annals‘ daily viewership of up to 1500, we could do more than just write a blogpost–we could do citizen science! So this, ladies and gentlemen, is an invitation to all of you to help build a  dataset. It’s more than the usual request for participation and comments that I end many posts with–it’s a challenge to all of us AA readers to keep an eye and camera out for examples of females using their dewlaps, so that we can together figure out a pretty basic piece of Anolis biology.

We’ve done this sort of citizen science before, quite successfully: here’s Kristin Winchell’s call for data on urban anoles, and here’s the resultant analysis.  And there’s all sorts of exciting natural history questions that would be impractical for individuals to tackle on their own, but that we can solve easily as a team. Let’s make this blog a citizen science hotspot!

 

Measuring Maximal Performance In Animals: The Cautionary Story From The Calaveras County Frog Jumping Contest

For more than three decades, since the seminal work of Ray Huey, Al Bennett, and Steve Arnold, biologists have measured whole animal performance–how fast they run, how far they jump, how well they can swim–to understand how species are adapted to their environment.  Work on anoles has been a prime example of how we can study differences among individuals and species to understand how natural selection works and why species living in different environments possess different morphologies (several AA posts have discussed this sort of work [e.g., 1, 2, 3]).

But a critical assumption of all of this research is that we can get animals to perform maximally. Otherwise, it’s tough to study what causes variation in maximal capabilities if animals aren’t performing maximally. The catch is: how do you tell if an animal is going all out? Sure, it’s easy to weed out the slackers, but distinguishing a lizard giving it his all from one going at, say, 90% of max…hard to tell.

In an important and entertaining paper, Henry Astley and colleagues provide some sobering information. The short story goes as follows, and you really should watch the video below for more details and some great images: biomechanicians have studied frog jumping for decades to understand how muscles work. Bullfrogs are known not to jump very well. The maximum jump ever recorded in the lab was only 1.3 m, whereas the much smaller Cuban treefrog can bound 1.7 m. The proffered explanation was that bullfrogs live on land and in the water, and so their morphology must be a compromise.

But…the Guinness Book of World Records claims that a bullfrog–Rosie the Ribeter, to be exact–once jumped 2.18 meters at the Calaveras County Fair. That’s  68% farther than any scientist had ever recorded in the lab. Sounds like a bunch of hooey, right? Well, just to debunk this nonsense, a bunch of Brown University biologists headed to sunny California to visit the County Fair, eat some cotton candy, and check out the frogs. And, lo and behold, it’s true–bullfrogs there regularly far exceed the lab record.

The story’s a lot more complicated–it turns out that there are “pro” frog jumpers–and I won’t go into the details; the paper is well worth a read, very entertaining and sobering for lab performance types (abstract here). But the short story is this: it seems that lab studies had massively underestimated how far bullfrogs can jump, calling into question many of the conclusions that had been reached about their physiology. Moreover, records for the maximum jump distance at the fair showed a steady increase for the first 50 years before levelling off for the last 30. This suggests that the people who jump the frogs (and some families have been doing this for generations) have only gradually learned exactly what conditions and behaviors maximally stimulate the frogs. And this suggests that lab scientists, who just guess at what may work best and tinker a little bit, may not have much of a chance of hitting on the right stimuli.

There’s been lots of great press coverage, too–just google “calaveras frog astley” or something like that. But, first, watch the video and go read the paper (I can email you a copy if you can’t access it online).

Southern Cold Snap: Reptilian Toll

carolinensis frozen

Two days ago, the Boston Globe had an article online,

Winter storm causes havoc in US South

“A winter storm that hit the southern United States yesterday all but paralyzed the city of Atlanta, stranding people in cars at stores and children at their schools. The storm only brought a few inches across the region but with the ice caused major problems in America’s southern region.”
Accompanying the article were 28 photos. The one above was #22, with the following caption: “Snow covers a dead lizard in Springville, Ala., on Jan. 28. (Mark Almond/Associated Press)”

When the Going Gets Cold, Anoles Get Colder

CTmax, Tb, and CTmin of cybotoid anoles & env. temperature. Modified from Fig 2 in Muñoz et al.

CTmax, Tb, and CTmin of cybotoid anoles & env. temperature. Modified from Fig 2 in Muñoz et al.

AA contributor Martha Muñoz’s work on altitudinal variation in the cybotoid anoles has already netted her the Raymond B. Huey award and of course, been featured on AA. A big chunk of this work, co-first authored with Maureen Stimola, has just been published by the Proceedings of the Royal Society B. If you haven’t read it yet, check it out.

I love this paper. However, in the spirit of full disclosure, I’m completely biased as I happen of be one of the co-authors. But I’m sure I’d love it anyway. Why? In part because it tests a clear hypothesis using multiple lines of evidence and eliminates confounding explanations – characteristics every paper should have. It also has cool (or should I say hot?) results. However, more than this, I think this paper demonstrates the power of combining good ole’ fashioned (yet cutting edge) field work with macroecological and macroevolutionary models, demonstrating how these different approaches can really complement each other.

What did Muñoz and company find? Briefly, they looked at hot and cold tolerance (CTmax and CTmin) of six species of cybotoid anoles on Hispaniola, in relation to elevation. They found far more variation in CTmin than CTmax across species (and populations). By bringing in a little macroecology, they showed that CTmax isn’t correlated with environmental temperature, but CTmin is, i.e. when the going gets cold, the anoles get colder – sort of. The catch is that while CTmin strongly tracks temperature, daytime body temperature does not. This is a neat result in and of itself and fits well with a big, recent, data-mining paper showing similar trends across hundreds of both ecto- and endothermic species. But while it doesn’t have the breadth of that paper, Muñoz et al. were able to go further. Firstly, bringing in a little macroevolutionary analysis, they showed that yes, CTmin has actually evolved significantly faster than CTmax. Neat, but at this point you should be asking yourself, “What about acclimatization?” and “Is this just plasticity?” Muñoz et al. asked the same thing and headed back to the field. A lot of work later and the answer was no. An acclimation experiment rejected this possibility.

At this stage, most macroecological and macroevolutionary analyses would have to stop at the identification of a clear, and intriguing pattern of fast past evolution of cold tolerance along an elevation gradient, but little CTmax evolution. The Discussion of such a paper would suggest potential hypotheses to explain the pattern and that would be that. But Muñoz et al. again went further and, by working in the field to measure perch use and operative temperatures, worked out why . The key result showed that lizards can behaviourally thermoregulate to escape the heat, thus reducing selection on heat tolerance, i.e. the Bogert effect. However, the nighttime cold cannot be escaped (actually, it can, by moving to England where it hasn’t dipped below -2 deg C this winter. Enjoy that polar vortex America!), leading to selection on cold tolerance.

Like I said, very cool results and a real testament to the power of using field experiments and macroevolutionary models to inform each other and go beyond what each approach could do in isolation. So please read it, challenge it, and build on it.

Strange Dewlap Colour and Pattern

Here’s a picture of an Anolis cristatellus I recently found in Miami (FL) with a strangely coloured dewlap (next to a more typical dewlap colour and pattern). I have no extra details other than I found one other individual that was similar close by, although with less grey. I have never seen it on any other cristatellus in the area. So strange I thought I would share!

cris_dewlap
Left: Atypical dewlap, Right: Typical dewlap

Although I intended to post this just because of my natural curiosity, it also gave me the added bonus of being able to annoy WordPress’s US-English spellcheck with my title!

Second Pine Forest Anole Described from Mexico

peuciphilis1Until now, Anolis omiltemanus was the only Mexican anole restricted to pine forests. However, in a new paper in Zootaxa, Gunther Köhler and colleagues have described a new species, A. peucephilis, from the southern Sierra Madre del Sur in southern Oaxaca, nearly 300 km from A. omiltemanus. The new species differs morphologically in a number of respects, most notably in its extremely short legs. It is also is divergent in mitochondrial DNA. All specimens were collected at night in pine trees at heights ranging from 2-10 meters. No specimens could be located during the day, suggesting that they are very cryptic, a common trait with short-legged anoles.

Wondering what the name means? Here’s what the paper says in its etymology section: “The name peucephilus is a compound adjective derived from peuke (Greek for pine) and philios (Greek for loving) referring to the obvious habitat preference of this species.”

peuciphilis2

Sex Chromosomes Conserved Across Anoles and Beyond

Cusick_FL_carolinensis_3 matingThough temperature-dependent sex determination is one of the most interesting things about reptiles, this mode of sex determination unfortunately does not extend to anoles. In iguanid lizards, sex determination has long be known to be a consequence of sex chromosomes, males being the heterogametic (XY) sex.

Reptilian sex chromosomes occupy a strange middle ground within vertebrates: on one hand, amphibian and fish sex chromosomes are marked by rapid turnover in precisely which chromosomes determine sex ; on the other hand, bird and mammal sex chromosomes are characterized by their stability over millions of years.  In an early-view paper in Evolution, Rovatsos et al(2014)  show that sex chromosomes are stable in at least some reptiles–in anoles, they have been conserved since before the diversification of the genus. 

The authors began by picking five X-linked and three autosomal genes from the recently published Anolis carolinensis genome, and use quantitative PCR to confirm that the X-linked but not the autosomal genes have double the gene dosage values in female vs. male A. carolinensis. Next, they extend their sequencing efforts to seventeen other species from across Anolis as well as three species of phrynosomatid lizards. Remarkably, similar patterns of gene dosage differences between males and females are seen across the sampled taxa, suggesting that the same genes are X-linked in all these species. This result implies the stability of the X-chromosome for at least 70 million years, pre-dating the divergence of Dactyloidae and Phrynosomatidae.

This finding puts a dent in a long standing hypothesis for why birds and mammals have stable sex chromosomes–their stability was attributed to “the lower susceptibility of homoiotermic endothermic vertebrates (mammals and birds) to thermally-induced sex reversals due to their effective thermoregulation.” Rovatsos et al. (2014) call for new explanations for “why some vertebrate lineages possess frequent turnovers of poorly differentiated sex chromosomes, while others show a long-term stability of sex chromosomes connected with their progressive differentiation,” explanations that must take into account the stability of sex chromosomes across anoles and potentially across all iguanian lizards.

Are Bark Anoles (Anolis distichus) Native to Abaco Island, Bahamas?

Bark anole, A. distichus

Bark anole, A. distichus

I’ve been working on Abaco, in The Bahamas for several years now. The Bahamas, Abaco in particular, is famous for the abundance of terrific science that originates there. Currently, Abaco has three species of anole: A. sagrei, A. smaragdinus, and A. distichus. However, only A. sagrei has been considered native to the island, the others likely introduced relatively recently from islands of the Great Bahama bank such as New Providence or Bimini. However, a recent study reports fossil evidence of A. distichus in peat deposits from about 950 YBP supporting a long history of A. distichus on Abaco.

One interesting aspect of this find is that the contemporary distribution of A. distichus on Abaco appears to be limited to the main port town of Marsh Harbour. I always suspected that this limited distribution suggested that A. distichus was not native to the island, but rather came in on landscaping plants over the last several decades.

So why are there conflicting observations here? Is it possible that A. distichus was extirpated on Abaco due to settlement by indigenous peoples (seems to be contemporaneous with the fossil sediment formation)?  While it might seems rather hard to extirpate such a small, abundant animal, there is growing evidence that the Bahamas were reptile-dominated ecosystems at the time of human arrival. Therefore, the coincident extirpation of tortoises, Cuban crocodiles, and rock iguanas places the modern hiatus of A. distichus in a different light. I am guessing that the altered (intensified) fire regimes initiated by ancient human civilizations may have contributed to the absence (rarity) of A. distichus from contemporary, natural ecosystems. This is admittedly, a lot of conjecture, but how else might one explain their ancient presence, yet contemporary confinement to a human-dominated habitat?

I look forward to hearing more from the interesting work that Dave Steadman, Janet Franklin and Nancy Albury are doing on these ancient Bahamas communities. And it looks like there is a lot more to come! Also, the name of the journal is The Holocene. How cool is that?!

Steadman DW, NA Albury, P Maillis, JI Mead, J Slapcinsky, KL Krysko, HM Singleton, and J Franklin. 2014. Late-Holocene faunal and landscape change in the Bahamas. The Holocene. DOI: 10.1177/0959683613516819.

 

 

 

 

The Reptiles and Amphibians of Mindo, Ecuador: New Book

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.

Foreword:

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!

Genetic Differentiation in the Beach Anole, Anolis onca, in Venezuela

DSC_0010x

Everyone’s favorite beach anole, A. onca. Photo by J. Losos

Anolis onca, the only padless anole, occurs in sandy habitats in Venezuela. Little is known about the evolutionary history of this quite distinctive species (we had a discussion of its natural history last year [1,2]).

Now a recent paper appears in the journal Saber  in which a team of Venezuelan scientists led by Alejandra Tejada used starch gel electrophoresis methods to measure the degree of genetic differentiation among populations. The paper can be downloaded, albeit a bit slowly, and is in Spanish, but here’s the English summary:

Anolis onca is a lizard species located in the Araya peninsula, in northern Venezuela. Populations of this species may have been isolated in the late Cretaceous and later recombined during the Quaternary through a new isthmus by sedimentary processes. To test this assumption, in five populations of A. onca, starch gel electrophoresis was used to estimate genetic variability within populations, interpopulation differentiation (FST), and gene flow (Nem). Additionally, under the premise of genetic differentiation between subpopulations under the isolation by distance (IBD) model, we conducted a phylogenetic analysis for five subpopulations of this lizard. Increases of genetic distance values (D) between subpopulations arranged consecutively between the Chacopata and Guayacán locations and a clear structuration as estimated by the FST parameter, evidence isolation by distance as indicated by the IBD model. However, Nem values did not conform to this model, suggesting that the subpopulations, although actually connected, may have been shaped by independent evolutionary processes. The two clades resulting from the phylogenetic analysis do not group populations closer geographically since clade B (Chacopata+Istmo Sur) lies in areas geologically ancient whereas clade A [(Istmo Centro+Istmo Norte)+Guayacán)] occupies areas of recent sedimentary origin. It is thus reasonable to infer that other factors besides the geographical distance between subpopulations may have also conditioned the structure found.

 

Orange Coloration in Anolis cristatellus

A couple of days ago as I was feeding my Anolis cristatellus hatchlings and I noticed something really strange – one of the hatchlings had a bright pink/orange tail!  I was really amazed at how bright and unusual it was so I immediately emailed Ambika Kamath who pointed out that this conversation is not a new one to Anole Annals and suggested I post on my anomalous pink lizard.

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The pink-orange color is only on the tail and hind limbs and when I picked the lizard up the color faded as the lizard turned darker brown. The mother was unremarkable (not pink!), but one of the siblings also has some reddish tint to its tail, although not as apparent. I have not noticed this in any of my other hatchlings.

I’m curious if this is the same sort of coloration that other people have observed in Anolis sagrei. Some of the pictures look very similar to what I observed. Has anyone else observed this in A. cristatellus or any other species? Or maybe this sometimes happens in hatchlings and fades with age? For reference, here are the previous posts on Anole Annals regarding this topic:

It might be noteworthy that the hatchling is the offspring of two urban lizards from Mayaguez, Puerto Rico.  In the other posts, it seemed like many of the observations of the red-orange A. sagrei were in urban areas. One of the posts mentions an orange color of palm trees and other manmade substrates in the suburban area where they observed multiple orange lizards. I wonder if this is an adaptation to something in the urban environment? Now that I think of it, I recall catching some lizards at my urban sites that had striking orange coloration on them, but none were completely orange and none looked pink. Also, I don’t recall my study site having a large amount of orange substrates, although many of the houses are painted bright orange, yellow, pink, etc. Any thoughts on this?  I’ll keep an eye on this lizard and let you know how the color develops as it gets older.

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Mystery Growth on Anolis smaragdinus

In the course of our research on  small-island populations of A. smaragdinus (A. carolinensis series) in the Bahamas, we’ve encountered a number of animals with mysterious lumps. These are sometimes quite conspicuous, as in the photo below. The question is, what are they? Tumors? Parasites? Has anyone encountered something similar?

Photo by Rowan Barrett.

Photo by Rowan Barrett.

The growths do not appear to be restricted to any particular part of the body — we’ve also observed them on the base of tails and on limbs. The lizards in question are currently distributed across several islands, but all are descendants of small founding populations (10 individuals) originating on Staniel Cay. Eager for any insights from the anole community! (Rank speculation is also welcome.)