October 18, 2013

Green Anoles in Hancock Park!

Dr. Greg Pauly, the Museum's intrepid curator of herpetology, just found a previously undocumented population of green anole lizards, Anolis carolinensis, in Hancock Park! This is the latest discovery in our increasingly popular RASCals (Reptiles and Amphibians of Southern California) citizen science project.

One of the Green Anoles, Anolis carolinensis, Greg found in Hancock Park.

But how did Greg find these little fellas? It's all down to a birder with a keen eye for wildlife in his backyard! Here's Greg with the story:

"This past December, Kimball Garrett, was leading a Christmas Bird Count. One of the other birders participating in the count told him about some anoles he had been seeing in the yard of his Hancock Park home near the Wilshire Country Club. Kimball alerted me to this observation, and I worked with the homeowner to find a time to do an anole hunt in his neighborhood. It took some time to find a day to search, but in early October I headed out to the neighborhood. We spotted our first anole as we took our first step up the driveway, and within 90 minutes, we observed nine anoles on both sides of the street across three large lots. We saw males, females, and juveniles so it was clear this was an established population. Further, a resident informed us she had been seeing the anoles for all 12 years she had spent in the neighborhood."

Twelve years—no way! This makes me wonder if these lizards showed up after a kid came back from the L.A. County Fair. I've heard from multiple sources that you used to be able to buy "little green lizards" at the fair. You'd give the vendor your money and they would pin a "leashed" lizard to your shirt and you would watch it change color. They were sold as chameleons, but they were actually anoles!

According to Greg Green Anoles are well known for this and a few other reasons:

"First, like chameleons anoles can change their skin color to better match their background. Second, they have dewlaps which are basically little brightly colored flaps of skin that they extend from their throat. The pattern in which they flash these bright colored throat fans and the colors themselves are species-specific. We typically think of dewlaps as being a male trait, but in many anole species the female also has a dewlap, though it tends to be smaller and less brightly colored than in the male. Scientists do not yet know exactly why females also have dewlaps. Males use their dewlaps primarily to announce territory ownership and to advertise to potential mates. The third reason that anoles are well known is that several anole species, especially the Green Anole, are common in the pet trade."

Mmm, so it's all seeming to add up.

But who really cares about these lizards? Greg does! He says this find is significant because it is the first time anoles have been documented to be established in Los Angeles County. He also says that it is only the third known introduced population in the entire state. Now that he knows about them, he can study them, aksing quetsions about what impacts they might have on native species of lizards and insects. He tells me that introduced anoles on the Bonin Island have been found to have large impacts on the native insect fauna (because they eat them). This new population may also be harboring parasites that could be transmitted to our native lizards. Whoa!

If you want to find out more about anoles and RASCals come to RAAD (Reptile and Amphibian Appreciation Day) this Sunday. You can visit our RASCals table to get details on how to help with the project, and you might even get to meet Greg!

Dr. Pauly showing this male anole's dewlap!



Posted by:Lila Higgins

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