Sunday, August 21, 2011

Anole Lizards - My Summer Playing with Anolis Carolinensis

I did some surprising math to figure out how many lizards I caught this summer.  Let's say I caught two a day (a very conservative estimation).  Times a 5 day work week.  Times 11 summer camps.  That's some where in the neighborhood of 110 lizards!  haha!  (And how many of those poor lizards were repeats!)

This summer I worked at the Challenger Learning Center's helping them put on their science summer camps.  Part of my responsibility was to help lead the recess time.  Recess was spent on a tiny island of green within a much larger bustling downtown scene.  I was perpetually amazed at how many anoles, skinks and snakes there were considering the surrounding metropolis.

This unexpected lizard catcher role came after being a part of recess for a few days and realizing both how many critters were there and how much the younger kids loved to stalk, catch and learn about these city denizens.  So, I capitalized on the opportunity and brought a terrarium from home, clear shoe boxes to view them in and did a little research so that I could pass it on.   Very shortly, me and a few other kids poking around in the bushes turned into me surrounded by up to twenty kids going on an all out "safari" (and, of course, no safari is complete without a good safari hat) stalking these fascinating critters.  I'll share some highlights.


  • I have somewhat mixed feelings about having created a small army (several hundred of kidsover the summer) of kids that now love catching lizards.  haha  But, you can't love what you don't know, though.    And, hopefully they will learn to love and protect nature form playing with it (as opposed to just torturing unsuspecting lizards).
  • Here's the technique I taught the elementary school kids:
    • The Cat
      • Go into stealth mode.  Crouch.  Stalk.  Slow motion.  Blend into the background.
    • The Snake
      • Cock your arm back.  Coil up ready to strike. Move your shoulder in the direction of the prey.
    • The Heron
      • I've seen herons rock their head back and forth before striking prey.  I've been told this can be to triangulate distance, but I also think it may be to take on a "blowing in the wind" branch appearance.  Anyway, it does work if you want to inch your hand towards a lizard.   It's almost like they get a little mesmerized similar to a snake charmer.
    • The Fakey
      • Another technique is to draw their attention to your other hand while you get the other ready to strike.
    • The Strike
      • Aim a little towards where you suspect they'll run and unleash that arm to attack!

Family Ties

Anoles are a part of the iguanidae family of lizards and as such have a fascinating biogeography.  The iguana family can be found in three locations in the world: the Americas, MADAGASCAR and FIJI/TONGA.  That should truly blow your ever loving mind.  Think about where those are in the world.  That's almost exactly every third of the Earth!

How?  Why?

There was a time in the world when South America, Africa and Madagascar were connected and all contained iguanas.  Time passed.  The continents separated.  The iguanas died out on Africa, but stayed in Madagascar and S. America.

How can we explain Fiji and Tonga?  They're 8,000 kilometers from South America!  Some intrepid pregnant iguanas or family of iguanas must have had to drift on the southern equatorial current thousands of miles surviving off fat and perhaps a downed tree!  How many thousands journeyed without making it before that one or few!!!??!!  Unbelievable!


Why do anoles have bright white bellies?  To blend in when predators look from below up at them! They look like the bright sky!


These lizards have pigment filled pores within their scales that can dilate and constrict changing the amount of pigment exposed.  They come in three flavors: yellow, blue and browny black.  Put yellow and blue and you make green!  Some, however, have a mutation that turns off the yellow pigment leaving them a bright blue!

Mirror Attack

Put a mirror slowly in front of a large male anole and they'll display their dewlap and complete several pushups in territorial anger.  Great clip of David Attenborough doing this:

Van der Waal Toes

Anole toes have millions of adhesive hairs on their soles that are so sticky they can walk upside down on glass.  Good overview of the Van der Waal dipole forces that are causing this:

Parietal Eyes

Did you know that many lizards, amphibians, fish and sharks have a third eye?!?!?!  And I can't believe I spent my whole life up to this point and didn't know it!!  This eye sees in the blue/green range and could be involved in circadian rhythms by releasing neurotransmitters like melatonin.  It may also have a function in sunning.  When lizards (and us) go in to the sun, their irises constrict giving the brain the impression that the sun dimmed.  How can they always have a uniform measuring stick for light brightness?  By having an eye without an iris!  As a side note, mammals and birds have lost their parietal eye, but archaeopteryx had one!

Discussion questions:  Why do the males have dewlaps?  Why are the males larger than the females?  Why are there more greens than browns here in Tallahassee vs Orlando?  What's countershading good for?  What do you think they eat?

Works sighted [sic]:
3d skull:,_Irwin

Images from here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here.

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