Caturday Felid: Anoles vs. Predators

May 16, 2009 • 10:31 am

by Greg Mayer

The terrifyingly threatening predator on the left (which closely resembles my first cat, Kitty Cat) appears ready to enjoy a quick snack at the expense of the anole on the right (which closely resembles my first lizards, Gilbert and Ignatius). What’s that, you say? An anole? Not a gecko?KittehGeico


Our endangered friend is not a gecko, a type of lizard that has been popularized by commercial ventures ranging from Hawaiian tourism to insurance, but rather an anole, a member of a quite distinct family of lizards. In particular, it is Anolis carolinensis, the green or Carolina anole. They are native to the southeastern United States, and have long been popular in the pet trade. Jamaican acquaintances have told me of how the arrival of a house cat can clear out the anoles in their garden, but I don’t greatly fear for our friend here: I’ve seen an anole on Grand Cayman, faced in a similar manner by a predatory bird, dash between the bird’s legs and make good its escape.Lizards in an Evolutionary Tree, by Jon Losos

Anoles are the neatest of all lizards, with about 300 species ranging from the US to South America and all over the West Indies, and showing a great diversity of morphology, ecology, and behavior.  One of the neat things about anoles is that they are great natural colonizers.  The species group to which Anolis carolinensis belongs originated on Cuba, and has colonized the southern US, the Bahamas, Little Cayman, Navassa, and Half Moon Cay and the Bay Islands off the coast of Central America. Through human introduction, Anolis carolinensis is now widespread on islands in the Pacific, including Hawaii.  The populations on the West Indian islands are variously considered endemic species or subspecies, and are a good example of geographic speciation, discussed by Jerry in chapter 7 of WEIT.

Studies of the colonizing abilities of anoles, and many other neat things about them, were pioneered by E.E. Williams. Anole studies have been carried to new levels by my friend and colleague Jonathan Losos, and he has a book on anoles coming out this summer, which everyone should read to find out more about their evolution, ecology, and biogeography.