Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Photogenic Habitat Selection

On our way into the forest one morning, Deborah made a great "spot" (Noun, Ellee's Field Dictionary: to visualize an anole in a particularly difficult or interesting location). Check out this A. evermanni hatchling enjoying the decorative vegetation around El Verde Field Station!

Friday, July 15, 2016

It's All In The Little Things

 When you spend a lot of time learning about a single species, it is easy to start generalizing. You begin to assume that the individuals are more or less the same. Sure, there is a bit of variation here and there, but your brain seeks categories and determines rough averages:

“Most individuals are this big or that big.”
“In most cases, individuals will behave in this manner.”

But the more time you actually spend with the individuals in their day to day lives, the more you realize that the “bit of variation here and there” can be both substantial, and fascinating.

Deborah and I are trying to catch glimpses of this variation by observing the natural behavior of female Anolis gundlachi lizards. We know each of these lizards by “name”—they have unique IDs that enable us to identify particular lizards day after day. Over time, we get to know each of them. We start to see patterns.

Deborah's Forest "Escritorio"

Ellee's Favorite Observation Rock
We know who is always out—rain, shine, Ellee tromping past, they are always there, on that tree or this rock.

We understand that there are some lizards we will never glimpse until we sit on this rock, that far away, and watch a particular bunch of dead palm leaves with binoculars for 10 minutes. Give her that time and space, and sure enough, she will poke through the leaves and scamper over to the dead tree she seems to like.

And most annoying, we know which male is likely to tromp through the whole plot and mess up all the behavior observations as the females go skittering back into their hidey-holes. “Here comes O1/O2,” we sigh into our tape recorders. “Yep—yep she’s gone.” Poor, lonely O1/O2.

It’s the minor variation that makes things interesting. Why is this female out when the others have hidden? Why does this female run from this male, but the others don’t?

Collecting this kind of data is hard work. It takes time, practice, and a whole lot of patience. Losing lizards under rocks is frustrating, praying to the rain gods only seems to work on Tuesdays, and, on some days, lizards sit on the exact same perch all day long. But it’s the only way to truly capture that variation, and begin to wonder how it plays a role in the lives and history of the animals we all study.

A Usurper’s Tale: The Saga of B30/B31

[It's more fun if read aloud...]

Today I shall tell you the tale of a lizard known as “Blue/Blue.” She’s actually called “Female, LeftB030/RightB031, Tree 3, Plot 1, 6/21/16,” but I know all that matters little you.
An Anolis lizard, she takes hails from the tropics, but of her many behaviors, female-female competition shall be today’s topic.

The Forest Scene for our story. 

When Blue/Blue’s name first came to be, she spent most of her days on a Tree called SP-3.
A modest sierra palm, she seemed happy enough, surrounded by neighbors, and insects, and a whole manner of forest-y stuff.
One of her neighbors, known to all as White/White, lived on Tree 4, but seems to have disappeared during one night!
Whether she carried her bags to a neighboring plot, or met a maniacal lizard cuckoo, I’m afraid we know naught.
Regardless of reason, there resulted a great tizzy, and we suddenly found our day of observations quite busy.

It would seem that Tree 4 is a great perching prize, as we found it was coveted by a great many eyes.
Green/White eyed the vacancy from Tree number 1, but decided it not worth the battle she might not have won.
Green/Green looked upon the great tree with envy, as she and White/White had never been friendly.
Orange/Yellow crawled down the base of tree 2, shook her head and thought “that’s just too much territory for you.”
Yellow/Yellow had always been restless, tree 5 being easy to defend and leaving her quite quest-less.
But it was Blue/Blue who moved quickly to claim the new prize, much to the surprise of neighborly eyes.

On the roots of Tree 4, Blue/Blue perched with pride, but soon found herself drawn to the other side.
Green/Green pranced about, exploring by root and by vine, not content to remain on her palm leaf and pine!
Blue/Blue took offense and began doing push-ups, as she had come too far and cared not for territorial screw-ups.
But it seemed her efforts would be drawn thin, as Yellow/Yellow scampered up seeking to join in!

Blue/Blue would not give up her prize so easily, as she was 45mm long and therefore not measly!
She push-upped, and dewlapped, and stuck her tongue out, daring her foes to seek other routes.
It seemed Yellow/Yellow would be first up to battle, her own pushups making her palm perch rattle.
They darted and bit and ran round in circles, and if lizard faces could show fatigue, they’d both have been purple!
It lasted ten minutes and filled me with fright, but eventually Yellow-Yellow gave up, and left the fight.
With wounded pride she slunk back to tree five, promising she’d be back when she felt more alive.

But the woes of Blue/Blue were far, far from finished, as Green/Green remained, causing a menace.
She push-upped and crawled closer, drawing Blue/Blue ever nearer, thinking her chance to own tree number 4 had never been clearer.
Drawing un-lizardly strength from her ectotherm soul, Blue/Blue quickly retaliated, never forgetting her goal.
Darting this way and that, she harried her opponent, declaring “This is my throne, and you shall never own it!”
She jumped to the palms that were Green/Green’s home turf, and incited an interaction that became quite a tryst.
Five minutes it lasted, all puffed chests and tongues out, as these two former neighbors battled it out.
Blue/Blue emerged triumphant and Green/Green did run, and with some victory push-ups she shouted “What, leaving the fun?”

She returned to her tree, all pride and all glee, taking stock of the goods in her new territory. 
She slept soundly that night, nestled amongst the leaves, thoughts of her triumphs filling her dreams.

It was good that she rested,
for as you all know,
the Usurper will always be tested,
by friend and by foe. 

Sunday, July 10, 2016

A xenomorph moment with an anole (EDIT: Video link provided below)

Late last night, I returned to home base after capturing anoles at several sites for additional mate-preference trials. I started to organize the lizards that I captured and process them before placing them into their cages.

In addition, I had one male Anolis krugi that I held captive for a two days from a previous collection night. I try to catch extra male A. krugi when I can because they’re by far the rarer demographic that I need for my trials and can be used as insurance in case I can’t find enough for the following capture-session. This anole, from the northern hills of Yauco, was a beautiful 53mm-SVL whopper and he wasn’t at all shy to eat the crickets I fed him during his time in captivity.

As I was about to remove him from his cup container to assign him his trial cage I noticed something protruding out of the side of his torso. And that something was moving. “Is that a bot fly?!?” I exclaimed in my thoughts. The larva was just idling with its head (assuming it’s the head end) sticking out of the anole. As many biologists might do if they have the equipment, I ran to my car and grabbed the camcorder and some tweezers.

With the camcorder on and recording, I took the anole out of his container. But as the lizard briefly squirmed in my grasp, it stimulated the larva to flee the scene. I would’ve uploaded the video here of the scene but my current internet provider cannot handle the byte-load. So here is a screen shot. 

After squirming a bit, the lizard calmed down while the larva inched its way out of the hole.
It was pretty like a slightly boring, calm rendition of the scene from the 1979 film, Alien - but the lizard survived the ordeal albeit with a large dry wound exposing his raw musculature.
I decided not to use him for trials and put him back in his cup container. I procured the wiggly larva from the floor, sampled it into a vial and alcohol, and continued on to process the rest of the lizards for the night.

Once all the lizards were measured and in their cages, I briefly googled what this parasitic larva could be. Turns out it is not likely to be a botfly species such as the human botfly (Dermatobia hominis) of family Oestridae, but of a different yet closely related family, Sarcophagidae, the flesh flies.

I found that a fellow anole researcher, Dr. Travis Ingram, reported a similar case with an Anolis pulchellus at El Verde field station with an outcome more fitting of a Ridley Scott movie. The pictures he provided of the larvae seemed just as girthy as the one that emerged out of my A. krugi. Looking at the comments of his post, it appears there have been at least several of these observations in A. carolinensis and A. pulchellus.

Dr. Ingrams’s own googling led him to a paper by Irschick et. al. (2006) which provides insight on the parasitism of a Anolis carolinensis by a sarcophagid fly. Dr. Ingram went the extra kilometer and provided his parasitic larvae with substrate to complete their life cycle and managed to observe the adult fly stage, possessing the characteristics similar to sarcophagid flies.

And just as Dr. Ingrams’s also noted, I noticed nodules bulging from under the same A. krugi’s skin. Perhaps they are other larvae? Has anyone ever seen this in an A. krugi?

The following morning, I checked on the A. krugi male and saw he was still kicking and seemed that he’ll get to live another day at his home site. This was definitely a cool thing to observe, though I much prefer ‘not’ to observe it happen to the rest of my anoles for the rest of the season.
The next morning the wound was dry but still open.
This guy had at least two nodules at the edge of his ventral side.

-Eddie Ramirez

EDIT - 3/October/2016 : Click here to watch the larvae exiting from its host!

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Close encounter of...

Close encounter of the third kind…of Puerto Rican grass anole!

It so happens that right in my Yauco home base where I’m conducting my video trials, there are resident Anolis poncensis, also known as Ponce anoles, southern garden anoles, or el lagartijo jardinero del sur. This third Puerto Rican species of grass-bush anole is found throughout much of the drier southern and southwestern coast of the island. It possesses a diminutive dewlap, making this species a bit of an oddball among anoles. Nonetheless, a lack of a “bandera” does not make it less shy to show off its display. I regularly see one male and at least one female perched within a lemon grass bush just in view of one of my enclosures, almost as if they’re pouting at a distance for not being included in my study.
Lemongrass makes for great tea and a great home for xeric anoles.

One time I approached the lemongrass too close and the male Ponce anole jumped out, climbed up the nearby fence post, and gave me a brief glimpse of his macho display.
Close encounter of the “bird” kind!

Puerto Rico certainly has its fair share of backyard birds. And aside from their neat calls and aesthetically-pleasing plumage, I appreciate most of them for their lack of interest in my lizards and enclosures. Of course that’s not the case with every bird.
Enter the Greater Antillean grackle: a very gregarious bunch of birds and a common site in parks, popular beaches, plazas, college campuses, parking lots, and anywhere else they could find scraps of human food. The courtship of the males is particularly hilarious to watch as males puff themselves up and follow the female while fluttering their wings. They are known locally as the Mozambique or Chango. In this instance, “chango” is most appropriate. While they open to share similar tastes with humans, they also seem to enjoy fresh lizard on the side. 
The chango, on top of the enclosure, fails to find a way to break into the cage.

I’ve had few instances of a chango approaching the enclosures while recording. The lizards freak out which in turn motivate the chango to chase after it, running and flapping laps around the enclosure as they fail to penetrate their beak through the metal mesh. They eventually give up, but only after giving the lizards a fear-motivated “Insanity” workout. On one occasion when a chango was inspecting a cage, it was nearly tackled by another common bird, the Pearly-eyed Thrasher or Zorzal pardo. As the chango tried to hopelessly nab a lizard, the zorzal pardo was trying to chase it off so it too could take a stab at the lizards. 
This Anolis krugi male shows off his dewlap as he has a brief stare-down this pearly-eyed thrasher.
I should probably take the time to write a review for Zoo Med’s ReptiBreeze® cages. “Cages can withstand the bills of highly motivated medium-sized passerine birds.”