Tag Archives: Anolis nubilus

Reporting on the Reptiles of Redonda

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I’m back from Redonda and the expedition was a great success! I’m happy to report there were many Anolis nubilus boulder-hopping out of the way of the black rats and even blacker ground lizards on the island. In many ways the trip was even more challenging than expected but we came out with quite a lot of data so we have a great sense of the current status of the reptiles on the island and a baseline for comparisons into the future. I have even more stories and some videos going up on my blog to keep watch over there if you want even more details about Redonda.

redonda

To refresh your memories, Redonda is an island of Antigua and Barbuda and was completely denuded by rats and goats over the last century. Despite the dearth of vegetation, three endemic reptiles had been hanging on: Anolis nubilusAmeiva (Pholidoscelis) atrata, and an as-yet unnamed Sphaerodactylus dwarf gecko. The government of Antigua and Barbuda, in collaboration with Fauna & Flora International and local NGO the Environmental Awareness Group, has decided to undertake a massive restoration effort by eradicating the rats and relocating the goats. My job was to get some baseline data on the current lizard populations so we can figure out how they change into the future.

helicopter inside

Helicoptering to the island was every bit as exciting as I’d hoped. The Jurassic Park theme was playing through my head the whole way down. See that grassy patch with slightly fewer large rocks – that was the little tiny helipad, but our pilot was a pro and set us down perfectly. Almost as soon as we were out of the helicopter, we deposited our bags by our tents and set about catching Anoles.

nubilus

Anolis nubilus is at first blush a relatively innocuous member of the genus. They’re perfectly camouflaged in this environment, which is to say they’re drab gray and brown. Their dewlaps are cream-colored (which is really just my nice way to say drab gray-yellow) and the most decorated of the females sport faint dorsal stripes. Males did fairly regularly display impressive crests behind their heads, but nonetheless, the species at first and second glance is considerably less flashy than many of their cousins on nearby islands.

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Photo: Geoffrey Giller

All that said, there’s still a lot of cool stuff going on with nubilus. As Skip mentioned in his article 45 years ago, there’s a casuarina tree right next to the remains of the mine manager’s house that hosts an abundance of the few Redonda tree lizards living up to their name. The tree is still there and the lizards are still eagerly defending their precious few branches (see above).

There are actually quite a few trees still on Redonda, some of which are native Ficus trees. For the most part they’re in fairly inaccessible areas, but that really just means you need to bring a longer noose pole and don’t look down. I caught a lizard on this tree below with a perch height of approximately 350 meters (that’s really going to mess with the averages). Truth be told, after catching the lizard my knees were so wobbly I had to go find a nice big boulder and just had Geoff and Anthony shout me data for a while.

fig cliff

After a week on the island and many, many Anoles, we got morphometric and performance data, diet data, extended focal-animal behavior videos, two mark-recapture density studies and two permanent transects established, thermal ecology data, habitat use data, and flight behavior data. We even exhaustively determined whether nubilus likes Chuckles! (But that’s a story for another post).

I know this is an Anole blog, but there were some pretty cool things going on with the other reptiles on the island, too. The ground lizards were jet black and really big. Here’s a picture of Anthony Herrel trying to get a tail measurement:

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Photo: Geoffrey Giller

The atrata spent their days cruising around scavenging. We saw one eating a hermit crab, and we heard rumor of another that managed to get a sardine away from one of the crew working on the eradication effort! Analyzing the stomach contents of these guys is going to take quite a lot of detective work.

We also were able to gather the first natural history data on this unnamed dwarf gecko species. They’re strangely beautiful with an unlovely shovel-face and semi-transparent, too-squishy, gelatinous body. You wouldn’t guess it but they’re quick!

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Photo: Geoffrey Giller

In all, the reptiles of Redonda were fascinating and getting to explore the island was a unique privilege. I can hardly wait to return next year, and many years after, to see how the lizards change with the island.

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“What about us?” Technically these guys are reptiles too, but c’mon, the lizards are so much cooler. Photo: Geoffrey Giller

Of Rats and Reptiles: An Expedition to Redonda

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Anolis nubilus male and female from The Anoles of the Lesser Antilles.

In 1972, James “Skip” Lazell published a monograph on the Anoles of the Lesser Antilles including the species description of Anolis nubilus, an endemic anole restricted to the island of Redonda. His description of the animal and island, like the rest of the monograph, is colorful and evocative:

“The tiny islet is exceedingly steep-to, and rises nearly 1000 feet out of the sea. There is virtually no surrounding bank, and the full swell of the western North Atlantic pounds Redonda’s cliffs. A tiny, nearly vertical gut on the leeward side provides the only access to the top of the islet up the cliffs; great blocks of basalt lie at the foot of this gut and one’s original entrance to Redonda is made by jumping onto these blocks as the boat goes past them. It is about like jumping from a moving elevator onto a card table, except that elevators give more notice of directional reversals… but getting on is just the beginning. …

The top of Redonda is a rolling wold and a favorite place of innumerable nesting sea birds; the gut provides a route for their guano to descend the cliffs, and it dries to a thick powder there. Because of its lee-ward location, a chimney effect is produced in the gut, and the guano dust, mixed with the volcanic sand weathered from the parent rock, tends to rise when disturbed. As one toils up the gut under the tropical sun, one is accompanied by a cloud of this dust, which soon mingles with one’s own sweat to produce a wondrously aromatic and abrasive, though rather gluey, bath. At the top, jumbles of rocks and clumps of prickly pear rise gently to the old ruins, complete with a hedge of bougainvillea and a single tree. This is the home of Anolis nubilus. …

Surely Redonda once supported more vegetation, and presumably Anolis nubilus then had an easier life. The feral goats should be extirpated on this remarkable island, whose only known nonflying vertebrates are species found nowhere else on earth.”

Now, 45 years, 1 week, and 4 days later, I’m headed to Redonda to gather baseline lizard data on exactly such a goat extirpation.

Skip did miss one nonflying vertebrate in his account; Rattus rattus has taken up residence en masse on Redonda. The black rats are so plentiful now that they’ve taken to stalking the lizards on the island in daytime—“tiger rats,” according to Dr. Jenny Daltry, one of the researchers leading the island restoration effort. And so, the government of Antigua and Barbuda, in conjunction with numerous conservation NGOs including Flora and Fauna International, has decided to remove the goats and rats from Redonda in an attempt to restore the island and help its three endemic lizard species to recover.

Redonda is home to not just A. nubilus but also a jet black ground lizard, Ameiva atrata and an as-yet unnamed dwarf gecko, Sphaerodactylus sp. Presumably, A. nubilus would be perched high in vegetation avoiding the roving A. atrata; however, after centuries of goat grazing on Redonda, that vegetation has been reduced to a single Cassuarina tree. So, while that tree is likely swarming with anoles, most of the A. nubilus are spending their time hopping around the boulders of Redonda. Normally this would put them in range of the roving ground lizards, but it sounds as though both lizards should be more worried about those hungry black rats.

Fortunately for all of Redonda’s reptiles, as of a few weeks ago the goats on the island took a one-way ferry ride to new pastures (not a euphemism) and, well, starting soon the rats will be making their way to the great big garbage heap in the sky (definitely a euphemism). My goal is to get to Redonda and gather as much baseline data on the lizards as possible to see whether and how the lizard community changes on a goat-less, rat-free Redonda.

That’s no easy task, though. Here’s a picture of Redonda:

Photo credit: Dr. Jenny Daltry

Photo credit: Dr. Jenny Daltry. I’m reasonably sure that’s the gut there, in the foreground of the image.

Believe it or not, that’s the pleasant side of the island. Here’s the other:

Photo credit: TopTenz.net

Photo credit: TopTenz.net

We decided that hauling a week’s worth of research and camping gear up Lazell’s gut (let alone jumping to that card-table basalt) was out of the question, so I’m going to be arriving by helicopter. As if the rats weren’t enough, Redonda has no source of fresh water so we’ll be carrying in food and drink for the 8 days on the island. No power either, so I’ve been putting together solar kits to try to get enough juice to run a computer and spectrophotometer.

All in all, it’s going to be an adventure! I’ll update Anole Annals when I return, but I’ll also be posting more frequent updates to my personal blog and twitter. I’d love to hear from you, especially if you have any tips for rat-proofing tents (seems more efficient to just bait the other ones, right?).

Citation: Lazell, J.D. 1972. The Anoles (Sauria, Iguanidae) of the Lesser Antilles. Bulletin of the Museum of Comparative Zoology. 143(1).