Moody Gardens in January – 3

Brown anole on palm roots

Compared to typical winter temperatures further north, Texas winter temperatures are relatively balmy, and they improve the closer one gets to the Gulf of Mexico. Between the warm waters of the Gulf and the proximity to the equator, Galveston might see temperatures approaching freezing with the very occasional cold front. In fact, as we left, the island faced its first hard freeze since the famed freeze of 1983, which actually froze the ocean close to shore. Even under normal temperatures, it’s a little too chilly for amphibians such as tree frogs or salamanders, but a few hardy reptiles might still be wandering around, basking in spaces protected from north winds and taking advantage of the occasional insect.

Such was the surprise when trying to get photos of a split in a palm’s base at Moody Gardens by the main entrance. Many of the more common species of palm in Galveston produce fingerlike root buds when the crown of the base is exposed, presumably to help anchor the tree further during hurricanes, and the split in one was particularly interesting. As I focused, I noticed a pedestrian on the side, watching me but not having any particular interest in moving unless absolutely necessary.

Brown Anole

As it turned out, this was a female brown anole (Anolis sagrei), related to the green anoles found in Dallas. Since they’re much less tolerant of cold than A. carolinensis, they’re mostly found around Houston and San Antonio, so this wasn’t too surprising, but it was still a nice diversion.

Male brown anole

The bigger surprise came literally at my feet. I was on a concrete walkway running parallel to the outside of the building, and a woman coming down the walkway warned me not to step on the lizard right behind me. I turned to see a big male brown anole on the walkway, and noticed that he was too chilled to climb the sides to escape. It took a couple of tries to snag him, but once he realized that I wasn’t planning to eat or injure him, he stayed on my hand and soaked up the warmth. The only problem was being intensely right-handed with a camera best used by a rightie, with a lizard propped in my dominant hand, trying to get a photo before he jumped off. While it was a wrangle, he stayed right there, posing and basking, and he finally only jumped off when I brought him to the trunk of that original palm and coaxed him off.

Male brown anole

Considering the cold later that night, I don’t assume that I saved this lizard’s life, but I definitely improved the odds that he wouldn’t be snapped up by a bird or stepped on by a passerby. That’s about all you can do.

More to follow…

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