Saturday, June 25, 2016

Grass anole superstars.

Greetings from the west side of Puerto Rico!

I’m almost two weeks in conducting my studies on the Puerto Rican grass anoles: Anolis pulchellus, Anolis krugi, and the hybrids that have arisen from the two species via mitochondrial introgression. Considering how these hybrids, which look practically identical with pure Anolis pulchellus with the naked eye, seem to have swept through west coast of the island I’m really interested to find out if these two groups would still mingle between themselves if given the opportunity. So I decided to host my own lizard dating show – a sort of “The Anolis-Bachelorette” except these bachelorettes don’t get a whole season for themselves but an episode.

Combining three cages into one, I built enclosures with three partitioned sections. Placing a female in the center, and a male on each end, she’ll be given the opportunity to view both a male of her own group and a male of the other all while I record the whole session. The first season of the Anolis-Bachelorette are between pure A. pulchellus and A. krugi.

Multiple enclosures to record multiple "episodes" because who doesn't love binge-watching?! The white foams boards are in place during the acclimation period and are pulled out upon the start of the recordings. Those tin soda-crackers cans are in place as the mounts for each of my video cameras.

Because these bachelorettes only get one “episode” the show requires a lot of participants! So between episodes, I’m going out on frequent casting calls at different sites on the island. One day, in particular, I was in search of specific site to find A. krugi through the windy, narrows roads of the mountains of PeƱuelas. En route, my GPS lost signal but stubbornly didn’t want to admit it as it was just taking me in circles. After realizing this, I retreated from the high hills. But on my way back to the studio, my peripheral caught a glimpse of a beautiful, unfenced stretch of grass at the edge of the forest. I stopped to explore this narrow field and low and behold it was teeming not just with A. krugi but also mitochondrial-hybrid A. pulchellus both living in densely-populated harmony. The find definitely made up for “lost” time. Ha. Ha.

A grass anole (researcher's) oasis! After casting the anoles in the dating show I bring them right back to their nice homes.

In addition to running a dating show, I was also in the works of gathering scenes for a talent show! More specifically, I’m gathering video recordings of display behaviors by both groups of A. pulchellus and of A. krugi. With evidence that hybrids can produce signals that are either mixed or novel in reference to the parental species, I’m curious to see if these mitochondrial hybrid grass anoles possess signaling traits that differ from there parental groups. So I’m out to find male anoles willing to show off their pushup style-dewlap pulsing dance moves. These guys can be pretty elusive as it seems most of them don't want to come out of hiding to seek fame.
Screenshot of Anolis krugi
Screenshot of an A. pulchellus mitochondrial hybrid in mid-pushup.

Tune in next time! 

-Eddie Ramirez

Night Life

Anoles are diurnal, meaning that for the most part we only see them active during the day. However, when night descends upon the tropics, things don't necessarily die down.

During the night, most anoles find a quiet place to sleep. I snapped this picture of a female Anolis sagrei snoozin' on a blade of grass the other night while prowling for bugs. She quickly moved away once she realized we found her. She needs to be more careful next time!
Snoozin sagrei
Some anoles, however, have found that staying up late can have some perks. This Anolis distichus was hunting around the light next to the pool, probably hunting ants which seem plentiful at night.

Other lizards are specialists of the night, such as these introduced house geckos (Hemidactylus mabouia) which can be seen hunting all over at night for various bugs. This is a pretty big one! Photo courtesy of our undergraduate assistant Josh Jones.

Photo credit: Josh Jones



Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Poppin' some tags!

My debut post on the Chipojo Lab blog!

I'm Levi, a first year grad student in Manuel's lab (aka the sunburned lobster in one of the below posts), and I joined the team down here in Marsh Harbour for my first lizard field season!

This is my first time in the Caribbean, and I love it. On the whole this town has been very amicable to field work. It is a short jaunt across the street to one of my sites, and a short walk down the road to the other. These sites are not only dripping with lizards but they are also nicely mowed and maintained, which makes our job pretty easy (we can catch lizards in shorts!). Sure, my food options might not be the best (more on that later!), but studying lizards here is just great.

Tagged lizard butt.

Over the last three days we have tagged exactly 47 lizards. The "we" I refer to includes myself, Manuel (while he is here!), and my two field assistants/minions Will and Josh, mentioned in a post below. We have all enjoyed honing our lizard wrangling skills as we run around our sites to find, catch, and tag any lizards we can find.

Most of the lizards we have tagged are Anolis sagrei or brown anoles, a trunk ground species found on tree trunks and bushes all around this area. In our endeavors we have seen plenty of Anolis distichus and even a few elusive A. smaragdinus, two other anoles common to this region.

A curious male brown anole

Although most of the tagged lizards are anoles, we have also tagged 4 curly tails (Leiocephalus carinatus), feisty Caribbean lizards that are kind of the "white whale" of the lizard community here. They are much more skittish and a lot stronger, making them more difficult to sneak up on and catch. Manuel has caught all of those we have tagged to date. Despite their attitude, it is the cutest when these guys are on the run, as they scuttle around like some kind of lizard-toad, holding their tails above their backs as they go. I will have to get a picture to post here later.

A curly tail sunning outside our room.

We tag the lizards using tiny little tags that are usually used on bees. These tags are "popped" out of a card (hence the title) and we glue one on each side of the lizard's hips. These tags don't impede the lizards and allow us to identify individual lizards using unique color and number combinations. We weigh and measure each lizard before tagging it, data which we can use later, and flag the tree on which it was found so we can hopefully find it in that area again later. We can use these tags to follow the lizards over successive days, which is necessary for the field learning task we are trying to use in this study. More on that later!

Me with one of my tagged lizards.

A cute tagged lizard.

Until next time, stay cool!


Grew and The Minions

Levi (aka Grew), and his minions (Joshua and Will) have invaded Marsh Harbour. Their assignment to collect and mark as many A. sagrei as possible. Those lizards will be used to measure behavioral flexibility under natural conditions.
From left to right, Joshua, Grew and Will. It is clear that Josh and Will
have the upper hand over Grew

Levi, tagging a female A. sagrei
Please stay tuned, Levi will be updating the progress of this project over the next few weeks.

Team Gundlachi Rides Again!

We’re baaaackkkkk! Deborah and I are back at El Verde Field Station, and gearing up for another busy field season here in the rainforest! Thus far, El Yunque is earning its rainforest title. Deborah and I have spent some very damp days chasing lizards. But, how else do you learn that Anolis gundlachi can still be caught in a torrential down pour?! Deborah leads the lizard count by a loooonnnggg shot—she’s putting me to shame!

We've got a bunch of projects on the docket, so tune back in for some (hopefully) exciting updates as our field season unfolds!

Shameless "Made-It!" Selfie
49.5 Pounds--I WIN!

Sunday, June 19, 2016

The Straw that Broke the Camel's Back

This trip has been full of setbacks, problems with the engine of the boat that kept us grounded for four days to stormy weather that make impossible to find lizards. Particularly, when you are trying to measure their body-temperature. Today all those setbacks felt like a walk in the park, compared to the one that broke the camel’s back. At 6:20am I opened the back of the minivan and saw what you see in the photo below.
You must be wondering, what is the big deal of seeing a gas tank, well, that the engine that was next to it 10 hours before and now is missing. Correcto, un “C*B*&%” broke into the car and stole the engine. So we are again grounded and unclear that we will be back in the cays any time soon.