The Nature Writers of Texas

The best nature writing from the newspaper, magazine, blog and book authors of the Lone Star State . . .

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Tale of the Anole
By Ron Smith
McAllen Monitor


It was a pleasant Valley day at the pool, and the little girl on Spring Break was happy to be away from Michigan's chill. Here there were palm trees, very different birds and flowers to enjoy...and also other creatures..

When a little green one climbed the wrought iron fence in front of her, Lindsey was delighted because she loves all the little live things. "Can I catch it?" she asked her mother. With parental approval, she climbed out of the pool under the gaze of the 55-and-over crowd and ran toward the creature with her three-year-old sister at her heels. She picked it up by the tail, but it detached and the rest of the creature scurried away. Now even more delighted with this phenomenon, she ran back to her mother with the remnant. As she showed it to her, it wriggled! Mother was not amused, and Lindsey obeyed her command to throw it in the bushes.

The little lizard was an Anole, which rhymes with cannoli, although some pronounce it AN-ol It is sometimes inaccurately called the American Chameleon. Though not really a member of that genus, (You know, the one with the gun turret eyes and the long sticky club of a tongue) it too can change color against its background or when ill or stressed. A happy, well-adjusted Green Anole is...green. The outer skin layer is transparent, and the color change is regulated by layers of pigment which determine how much red and yellow or blue go into the palette.

If temperatures are over 70 degrees, the Anole tends to remain bright green. When males are in combat, something unique occurs. The winner stays green, but the loser goes brown. No green with envy here.

These lizards are usually only about seven inches in length, although they can grow to 10 inches in certain areas. There are about 36 species in Florida, and our species may have been introduced to the South Texas area many years ago They can survive north of us all the way to Tennessee.

Anoles live in bushes below fifteen feet, along rock walls and near houses. You may have often seen them on walls or window trim inflating their pinkish throat fans and bobbing their heads to either attract mates or challenge other males for territory. The sun shining through that dewlap is rather striking. No wonder females and rivals are impressed.

Yes, people do keep them as pets, but care should be taken during handling because they are somewhat delicate. Even when biting you they can damage their teeth! They require proper temperatures, so heating pads in the cold weather are necessary. They like an environment of sterile peat moss, ivy or orchids. It is prudent not to put males together. We once discovered why when watching a pair aggressively attack each other...not a pretty sight. Also, proper food is needed such as spiders, moths, cockroaches and grubs.

The "miracle" Lindsey observed is called autotomy. It is an effective escape mechanism when a disgruntled predator grasps it by the tail. Anoles can grow new ones, but they are seldom as long or the same color as the old ones.

It is interesting that there is even a Marvel Comics creature called Anole. He has green skin, possesses sticky feet for traveling over challenging surfaces and can become almost invisible by changing color!

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