Thursday, May 17, 2012

The adventures of Anolis carolinensis

The adventures of Anolis carolinensis in Southern Pines, NC

elise k., g-student in the Leal Lab
Location: Weymouth Woods-Sandhills Nature Preserve
Subjects: male and female carolina anoles
Goal: to film their social interactions

~As a potentially useful test of mate recognition systems, wherein former mates recognize each other and base subsequent mating decisions on that ability[1], I sought to study the carolina anole, Anolis carolinensis.

Jenssen & Nunez (1998)[2] have shown us something interesting about this species: A. carolinensis males skip mating opportunities, bypassing females that even signal their apparent receptivity. That is, females arch their necks conspicuously (a maneuver thought to show sexual receptivity) within close viewing distance of the male, who then decides to leave!

‘Tis strange.

To see if these males are discriminating among local females on the basis of recent sexual history (eh hem, maybe these skipped females are previous mates?), I drove to Southern Pines, NC to watch anole behavior. Amid the beautiful long-leaf pine forests here, life isn’t so bad. -->

Except when you regularly lose sight of your study subject as s/he walks 20 ft. up a tree!

Trying to assess the mating behavior of North Carolina anoles has been challenging. Mostly, I have not been able to keep track of individuals to the extent hoped for. But when the bushes do rustle with signs of lizard activity, I’m there! So far I’ve seen some cool interactions, including one copulation lasting 25 minutes (!), and two escalated fights between territorial males (e.g., one male [the Victor] jaw-clenched the other’s head for nearly 10 minutes!)…wish I had that on film to show you.

Male and female A. carolinensis in copula, 5-4-12
Anyway, I thought males might’ve been capable of recognizing females/former mates (and hey, maybe they can!) but I can’t really tell yet if males are bypassing mating opportunities, as has been previously shown for a different population of anoles. Without that cool hook as a foundation, it’s hard to say what would be next for this study plan…

For now, I have 2 more field weeks to try to watch lizards : ) -Will be back to the blog soon!

PS. check out who decided to hitch a ride on this beetle's head, observed in the park today!
an actual beetle-bug car!, 5-17-12

[1] IR info: Tibbetts EA & Dale J, 2007 Trends Ecol. Evol. 22:529–537.
[2] Jenssen TA & Nunez SC, 1998 Behaviour 135:981–1003.


  1. Sure they can recognize females; Orrell, K. S. and T. A. Jenssen. 2002. Male mate-choice in the polygynous lizard, Anolis
    carolinensis: a preference for novel females. Animal Behavior 63:1091-1102.

  2. thank you for the reference, of course!! As an extension, I wanted to see if males could discriminate between two familiar females, using individual-specific female cues (e.g., headbob displays?) --which is suggested in the paper. But at the moment I'm having trouble with being a [keen] observer in the field...something that instills a fresh appreciation for those who have conducted, and are conducting, fieldwork!