Friday, 21 July 2017

Green anoles, friends from our childhood, are friends of gardeners, too – via Herp Digest

Tyler Morning Telegraph, 6/28/17 Written by Greg Grant, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service

Surely if you are a gardener you have noticed delicate 6-inch green lizards patrolling your landscape. These guys have been friends of mine since I was a small child.

Because of their ability to change their color from bright green to brown or gray, many people call them chameleons, but they aren’t. These little iguana relatives are actually green anoles, or Carolina anoles, as their Latin name (Anolis carolinensis) indicates. Growing up, I never heard them called anoles. We just knew them as lizards. But in the environmental science world I primarily hear them referred to as anoles with two different pronunciations. Most pronounce it where it rhymes with “a mole,” but I prefer what I think is its original Caribbean Creole pronunciation where it rhymes with “cannoli.”

Anoles do live in the Caribbean islands as well as the southeastern United States from Texas to Virginia. In Texas they live as far west as Central Texas and South Texas. Thanks to sticky pads on the bottom of their feet, they can generally be found on trees and shrubs, as well as walls and rooftops. They generally prefer shady, moist areas, and often completely blend in with nearby potted plants. It’s not uncommon, however, to see them sunbathing during the morning hours.

As children, we couldn’t help wanting to catch them. It’s because of this and their own predators that they have tails that break away quite easily. Amazingly, the tails grow back, but sometimes smaller, discolored or a bit deformed. Our favorite thing to do with them as kids was to let them bite onto our ears and hang there like ear rings.

They don’t eat humans, however. They prefer small insects up to the size of crickets and June bugs. It’s a small-scale horror movie watching them munch and swallow these guys, too. This is why it’s important to be judicious and selective with insecticide use, as birds, spiders, toads, wasps and lizards all need live, healthy insects to dine on. All of these guys provide the service of nature’s insecticide.

One would assume that anoles change colors to blend in with their environment, but the color change apparently has more to do with their temperature, mood and stress level. By far, the most impressive color change they make takes place under their neck when the males project a hot pink dewlap during courtship and territorial displays. They often bob their heads up and down while their dewlap is displayed. My Grandmother Emanis called this dewlap routine “showing their money.” Anoles are very territorial. The males seem to spend more time strutting and posturing than they do foraging.

During the breeding season from March to October, females can lay an egg every two weeks. Eggs take five to eight weeks to hatch. Unfortunately, the female doesn’t look after the egg or the baby lizards, which immediately have to start hunting tiny insects to survive.

Tell your children they are miniature dinosaurs, because they basically are.

Greg Grant is the Smith County horticulturist for the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service.

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