Tag Archives: anoles

Critters Among the Carnivores

  Going through the backlog of photos from2015, a few were put on the wayside until such a time as it made sense to gather them all together. Such was the case with photos of various animals around the Triffid Ranch greenhouse. By way of example,a regular joke around here is to point to any animal that would be wildly inappropriate as a house pet and yell “Look! KITTY!” Upon inspecting it, usually with someone in tow as a witness to her husband’s usual behavior, the Czarina tells me “No, that’s not a kitty,” finishing with a very long sigh. It’s all part of my master plan for getting a crocodile monitor for my birthday next year. One day, I’ll point this out to her at a reptile show and she won’t disagree with me, and then I’ve got her. 
Anyway, we had lots of skinny green kitties in and around the greenhouse, especially during rainstorms. Who else would be running around during a crashing thunderstorms, taking photos of sleeping lizards? 
 And then there was the surprise. I’ve heard of mantids camping out on Sarracenia pitcher plants, but the mantids in Dallas are so small and so rare that I’d never seen one amobg the growing pools. That is, until I went out one evening to collect seed pods and found this little girl camped out underneath a bloom cap.  
Surprisingly, she had no issues with being held, and I suspect that she liked being photographed. I saw her once more before she laid her egg case and died, but I’m holing her children are as congenial and determined to use Sarracenia as hunting blinds as she was.  

The New Tenant

Most of this last weekend was a blur. Reports of an impending winter storm meant that getting everything secured for freezing weather was imperative, which required lots of time in the greenhouse. This included deadheading Sarracenia seed pods in order to get seeds for next spring, applying new greenhouse film, taping everything down, and otherwise cleaning up before our promised Icepocalypse 2014 arrives by Tuesday night. In go the hoses, back go the sprinkler heads, under cover go the faucets. The rainwater tanks are full, the spare pots moved into shelter, the tender succulents put next to thermal mass and the citrus up against a south-facing wall…I’m a firm believer in the power of negative thinking, where planning for the absolute worst means that you’re ahead of the game if the absolute worst doesn’t happen. (This is why I should have bought a decommissioned fallout shelter years back, because it would make a great tropical carnivore grow house, but that’s a different dangerous vision.)

Anyway, with the exception of a spare “Miranda” Nepenthes pitcher plant and a Brocchinia carnivorous bromeliad, all of the tropical carnivores were secured indoors for the winter, and I checked on the Miranda as I first entered the greenhouse. The whole neighborhood is infested with a rather large population of Carolina anoles (Anolis carolinensis), with their regularly camping out among sweet potatoe, Carolina jessamine, and hibiscus leaves, so it wasn’t that much of a surprise to find one in the greenhouse. The surprise was in one using Nepenthes leaves as a hammock.

Since I wasn’t completely prepared, I ran inside to get a camera, hoping that he wouldn’t run off in the interim. I’d forgotten that either anoles are loath to leave a good loafing lounge, or they’re hams. This one actually hung out long enough to pose for a while.


After a few minutes getting shots, Ta’Lon finally decided that I was hanging out too close and too long, so he got up to leave, keeping one eye on me at all times. While not possessed of the independent eye action of true chameleons, anoles have their moments. (By the way, take a closer look at the rear foot in the photo. Something that I hadn’t realized until this photo is that anoles have opposable toes on both front and rear feet. The difference is that theirs are the equivalent of our little fingers and toes. I can definitely see the advantages of this for a small lizard in grasping thin leaves and stems, but this was a wonderful surprise all the same.)


Well, I backed off for a little while, and came back about ten minutes later. In that time, had he been replaced with a new, brown lizard?

Nope: not at all. Anoles are regularly referred to as “American chameleons” because of their color changing abilities. They have neither the range of color or pattern as true Old World chameleons, but they can shift from a deep green to a deep brown in a matter of about a minute. Ta’Lon apparently decided that either the weather wasn’t quite right, or that I was aggravating him, because he started to switch back the next time I came through.

I’ve watched a lot of anoles in my life, but I’ve never had the opportunity to see one change color, and I never thought I’d be lucky enough to photograph one in the middle of a color transition. That said, I realized that I’d have to check any plants being brought indoors for the winter for wayward anole eggs. The females have a habit of laying their eggs in planted containers because the soil is so loose and well-drained, and while I both enjoy hatchling anoles and their color-changing attributes, I’d prefer not to do so while trying to catch the baby frantically running up and down my bathtub in an effort to escape. Especially not in the middle of January.

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…

Introducing Anolis carolinensis

Last weekend was a time to get busy at the Triffid Ranch. We haven’t truly moved into traditional Texas summer weather yet, and man, beast, and plant understood this, because we were all going a bit nuts. I spent Saturday and Sunday making a new raised bed edge for the Czarina’s tomato garden, pruning and trimming various bushes on the property, clearing clover out of the Sarracenia pots, clearing clover seeded from the Sarracenia pots out of the horsecrippler cactus, repotting Bhut Jolokia and Trinidad Scorpion peppers for the next big show in September, deadheading orchids, and watering the flytraps. By Saturday evening, by the time the Czarina got home, my usual lament about not having access to the 57-hour day was coming off my lips with the raging froth at the clover. At least I didn’t have to deal with the squirrels digging up the Sarracenia, at least since a big female Harris’s hawk started using the rooftop as a dining room table and my greenhouse as a commode. (With the hawk, the only beef is with bluejay feathers blowing off the roof. Other than that, “Shayera Hol” is welcome here for as long as she wants to stay. I don’t even mind her sitting on the greenhouse, staring at the cats through the window.)

Around the Triffid Ranch, taking the time to smell the roses was secondary to taking the time to watch the critters, and it was a day for critter-watching. Moving a brick in the tomato bed dislodged a rough earth snake (Virginia striatula), a snake so sweet-tempered and inoffensive that even serious ophidiophobes tend to soften a bit upon seeing one. Lots of Mediterranean geckos (Hemidactylus turcicus)hid among the bricks as well, waiting for nightfall. And then, as I was moving a batch of dragonfruit cactus pots, this little gentleman moved just enough to let me know he was there.

Sunbathing Carolina anole

The first common misconception about the Carolina anole (Anolis carolinensis) is that, because of its common nickname “American chameleon,” it can change color with the range and definition of Old World chameleons. While A. carolinensis can switch between various shades of green and brown, it has nothing on true chameleons. However, true chameleons don’t have the brilliant scarlet dewlap, which looks as if the lizard were brushed with powdered rubies, that male anoles flash to signal territorial claims. This fellow wasn’t worried about other anoles trying to take his space, but he also wasn’t taking an eye off me.

Carolina anole closeup

The other assumption about Carolina anoles, at least in North Texas, is that they’re escapees from captivity that went feral. Although a lot of anoles may have been released in the wild in the Dallas area from the days when they were inexplicably popular offerings in pet shops, this is actually native habitat for A. carolinensis, and they range south to the Gulf of Mexico and north into Arkansas before moving east all the way to the Atlantic. They don’t get as large in Dallas as they do in Tallahassee, but considering some of the gigantic anoles (not to be mistaken for the introduced Cuban anoles in the area) I used to catch in Tally, I’m actually a bit happy. This one was about as long as my hand, which suggested that he was getting both plenty of insects and plenty of drinking water. Anoles will not drink still water, and prefer to drink dew from plants, so I suspect the mister system in the greenhouse may have made his life a bit easier last summer.

"I'm ready for my closeup now, Mr. deMille."

When I was a kid in Michigan, I dreamed of one day keeping an anole as a pet, and would camp out at the pet sections in department stores to stare at the lizards. I know today that the vast majority didn’t survive more than a few weeks of that treatment, and many more died due to substandard care with their future owners, but lizards were a rarity up there and color-changing ones nonexistent. I became enough of an insufferable know-it-all on the subject that when showing my little brother a cage full of them at a K-Mart, I related “Look: Carolina anoles.” This peeved the toad overseeing the pet section, and he proceeded to correct me: “They’re chameleons.”

“No, they’re anoles. Anolis carolinensis. They’re native to the East Coast.”

He pulled out a cheap booklet entitled “All About Chameleons” from a shelf, and promptly showed me pictures of anoles, and then flashed the cover again, emphasizing the word “chameleon.” I then asked if I could see the book, and promptly read to him the first several paragraphs about anole habits and scientific nomenclature. He grabbed the book back, sneered “You’re just making it up,” told us to get out before he called the head manager, and went back to the dreams of a K-Mart pet shop manager. Probably involving how, when someone finally gave him command of a Constitution-class starship, he’d get into pissing matches with seven-year-olds and win.

Well, that was then. Now, I figure the lizards are happier and healthier in the yard than they’d ever be in captivity, and I encourage moonflowers (Ipomoea alba) and trumpet vine (Campsis radicans) to give the anoles and geckos more cover. This fellow sat atop that fence top with a very catlike demeanor, and when he was done watching me, he skittered off to do whatever anoles do in their off time. He’s always welcome to come back, and bring his harem with him, too.