Honey Holes and Rare Anoles

Saludos desede la República Dominicana!

Male Anolis fowleri

I’m just past the middle of a 6 week trip to the eastern half of Hispaniola to collect specimens and ecological data for geckos of the genus Sphaerodactylus as part of my thesis work.  I’m here for the most part with photographer, naturalist, and fellow adventurer Miguel Landestoy.  We’ve had a number of ups and downs already and I figured it is time to share some photos from one of our first nigths in the field when we stumbled upon a honey hole of rare anoles. Since Anolis fowleri is such a rarely seen and poorly known beast, here are some photos of a pair and their habitat. (sorry to keep this post short, but I’m here for geckos after all and am completely exhausted)

The specifics:
30+ Anolis insolitus
100+ Anolis etheridgei
5 Anolis fowleri

Female Anolis fowleri

Dewlap - Male

Dewlap - Female

Dewlap - Female

Anolis fowleri - Habitat - The honey hole

Anolis fowleri - Habitat - The honey hole

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10 Responses to Honey Holes and Rare Anoles

  1. Jonathan Losos says:

    Fantastic! Great work, Dan and Miguel. Is this a different locality than where previously people have looked? Or are you guys just better?

  2. scantlebury says:

    Over the last 2 years or so I combed through piles of museum locality data through herpnet, most of it already georeferenced but I did a fair bit of georeferencing myself (focusing on sphaero records). But I ended up with a data set that pretty much sums up where every collector has ever been on the Greater Antilles, so I was able to identify regions (sometimes mind bogglingly massive!) where no one has ever been. We’re targeting those areas.

    But we’re still the best, after all.

  3. Rich Glor says:

    Excellent work Dan. Those blue eyes on fowleri are gorgeous!

  4. Ambika Kamath says:

    For those of us that are relatively new to anoles, could someone give us a sense of how rare these particular beasts are?

  5. scantlebury says:

    Fowleri in particular is probably known from less than 20 specimens collected over the last 40 years. They were only known from just 2 or 3 localities until fairly recently (thanks mostly to Miguel Landestoy and Luke Mahler et al.). Collecting fowleri typically consists of revisiting these localities and spending HOURS painstakingly combing through the forest with multiple people for multiple nights – you’re lucking to find 1.

    Insolitus and etheridgei are not so rare, but are exceptionally cryptic. When we found them they were so dense that they looked like Christmas lights as our headlamps reflected off their dew covered bodies. I suspect no one has ever seen them in the densities we did. These are two of my favorite species and I used to love trying to find them – but this was so easy it wasn’t fun anymore.

  6. Jonathan Losos says:

    We still have no idea what the ecology or behavior of fowleri is like. As far as I’m aware, no one has seen one during the day.

  7. lukemahler says:

    WOW!!! That’s awesome guys!! Were the fowleri all adults, or juveniles too?
    Ambika, for a sense of the significance of finding Anolis fowleri, first check out “Rediscovering the diversity of Dominican anoles” – a book chapter by Rich Glor in Henderson and Powell’s 2003 book “Islands and the Sea” (published by SSAR). Then more recently, I wrote a piece for the Anolis Newsletter in 2010 which was largely about searching for these beasts: http://www.oeb.harvard.edu/faculty/losos/jblosos/newsletters/Newsletter_VI.pdf

    In 2008 we observed 1 female for several hours in the morning, but we hardly got a sense for its natural history. In any case, it’s very encouraging that these lizards are popping up at new localities! Congrats guys!

  8. Rich Glor says:

    It might also be worth noting that concepts of rarity are somewhat different between mainland and island anole biologists. In the Greater Antilles we consider something rare if you can’t reliably find one in a day or two of searching. Lots of mainland species are considerably more difficult to find. With this said, there’s little debate that fowleri has earned its reputation hardest to find of the Dominican anoles.

  9. scantlebury says:

    Luke, they were all adults – 2 males, 3 females. Unfortunately, we “failed to secure” 2 of the specimens (a male and a female), and lost track of them in some thick tangles of ferns, dwarf bamboo, vines, and twigs. We later learned (from nearly losing more) that once disturbed they drop into thick vegetation, quickly change color to be brown, and remain motionless.

    Jonathan, it would be great to learn something about these guys in the day time! But I think that task is best left to the anole world… Nevertheless, we did note some interesting behavior that coupled with my observations of the habitat at 2 well separated localities, I think is very suggestive of their ecology. At both sites I have seen this species (the type and this honey hole), the vegetation is multi-layered and extensively overgrown with vines, fern-vines, and dwarf bamboo. It is almost impossible to find gaps large enough for a man to pass through. That sort of habitat is distinctive and world of its own. When we took photos of one of the females (we collected 1 male and 2 females) she kept raising and “waving” her arms and hind limbs separately. (If anyone has seen female Pogona vitticeps displaying you’ll know what I’m talking about.) It was as if she was reaching for a piece of adjacent vegetation that our field photo studio lacked. I’m curious to know what Luke’s morphology data suggests of them (I can’t recall if you ever told me). But their long tails and curious “swimming behavior” seem ideal for life in very dense vegetation. My $0.02.

  10. Yoel Stuart says:

    Interesting how the dewlaps differ in color between the sexes. Was this consistent across the 2 males and 3 females? Nice work Dan!!

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