Summer reading and summer vacation: anoles

August 23, 2009 • 11:19 am

by Greg Mayer

Anoles are the neatest of all animals, and if you don’t believe me, take it up with my friend here– she’ll set you right!

An agitated anole

But rather than tangle with her, you can convince yourself by reading my friend and colleague Jonathan Losos’s new book, Lizards in an Evolutionary Tree: Ecology and Adaptive Radiation of Anoles, which was published at the end of July. Anoles are a group of 300 or so species found in the southeastern US, Central and South America, and throughout the West Indies.  Although they may be fairly described as, on average, diurnal, arboreal insectivores, they exhibit a great range in behavior, structure, and ecology: some are aquatic, some terrestrial, Lizards in an Evolutionary Tree, by Jon Losossome engage in carnivory and frugivory, and some live in deserts, and others in rainforests. They are perhaps most remarkable for the evolution of convergent multi-species communities on the islands of the Greater Antilles (Cuba, Hispaniola, Jamaica, Puerto Rico).  This is not just the usual (but still remarkable) convergence in features between, say sabertoothed tigers and sabertoothed marsupial tigers, or dolphins and icthyosaurs. It is convergence in the whole set of species living together in a community.  Thus each of the four Greater Antilles has a large, green anole that lives in the canopy of trees, a medium green anole with short legs that lives in the tree crown and on the trunk, a whitish, very short-legged anole which lives on twigs in the crown, and a medium brown anole with long legs that lives on the trunks and bases of trees; and there are several other inter-island correspondences among species. The corresponding species, however, are not, in general, related to one another; rather, on each island a more or less independent adaptive radiation has produced similar ecological sets of species. There are lots of other neat things about anoles, but I’ll leave you to read about them in Jon’s book, which you need to add to your summer reading lists.

Many anoles are marvelously colored, and the book is beautifully illustrated and well-produced. My pictures here are of anoles from my trip earlier this summer to Estacion Biologica La Suerte, Costa Rica, where I taught a field course in tropical herpetology.

Anolis capito, Estacion Biologica La Suerte, Costa Rica
Anolis oxylophus, Estacion Biologica La Suerte, Costa Rica

10 thoughts on “Summer reading and summer vacation: anoles

  1. Wonderful post!

    Recently, a discussion has started on my blog ( around the question of if in fact all monitor lizards are similar enough to be placed in Varanus (my italics aren’t working apparently). After reading this, I can’t help but wonder if all anoles, with the extraordinary diversity you’ve cited, should be contained within the genus Anolis.

  2. I am in total agreement about how awesome anoles are. In fact I briefly kept one as a pet (which I geekily named Losos), but I let him go after a short while. Anoles are too cool to keep in captivity.

  3. I’m a bio student and a native Floridian, and this book caught my interest when it was first mentioned on here a few months back. Gonna order a copy just for fun as soon as the bills permit!

  4. I’ve always loved anoles; they were my first real pet when I was growing up.

    I also had a number of Iguanas and when I’d get a baby Iguana I would keep it in the same terarium as the anoles (until it got big enough to pose a threat to the much smaller lizards).

    One of the things I remember about this one anole I had is that he had a love for fruit juice. I’d have a plate of fruit and vegetables set out for the baby iguana but I’d always see the anole by the Iguana’s plate licking up the juice that had spread over the plate.

    Great post Greg!

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