Spring Break 2018: In Search of Gray-Dewlap Green Anoles (Part I)

Anolis carolinensis, the Carolina green anole;
Collier county, Florida (15 March 2018).
Series: Spring Break 2018.

The Grande Glory and Manic Mayhem of Spring Break 2018 continues, only this time we’re skipping forward a click to Thursday 15 May and leaving snakes behind for a moment. Remember, this particular trip to South Florida was half Nerodia watersnake and half Anolis lizard themed, but we still managed to pull in some lizards during the first snake-half of the trip. Indeed, we had a side-mission in Collier county, and that side-mission was to track down some of the “Gray Dewlap” Carolina green anoles, Anolis carolinensis, of south Florida — something we don’t really see in my home territory of Volusia county.

First, a little backstory/context from a generalized perspective:

Anolis carolinensis is generally considered to be Florida’s sole native species of Anolis lizard. At this time, there are somewhere around 400 recognized species within genus Anolis; that’s a lot by any vertebrate measure. Anoles are wickedly adaptable organisms and natively range throughout much of the western Hemisphere — the Caribbean, Central America, and parts of northern South America. Though we do have a number of non-native species in Florida, the Carolina green anole remains our only native species.

Now, one of the fascinating aspects of Anolis lizards (and other species of lizards in fact) is the presence and use of a dewlap — a typically-bright, colorful fold of skin under the chin and along the neckline. Males will often flex the dewlap out (with an accompanying “push up” dance of sorts) to signify territory and/or to impress nearby lady anoles. It’s quite a sight to behold, the male anole macho dance. Further, different species of anoles sport distinctive and relatively specific dewlap designs. A typical Carolina green anole dewlap generally looks like this:

Anolis carolinensis, 08 May 2012.jpg
Anolis carolinensis; Lowndes county, Georgia (08 May 2012). The contrast is a bit high in this photograph; the dewlap naturally appeared a bit lighter and not as bold.

As noted in the caption, that image is a wee bit too contrasty. In natural light, the Carolina green anole’s dewlap is a bit more pinkish and lighter than it looks here (a’la deep red). Regardless, that’s the general gist of the Carolina green anole’s dewlap design. Nothing too fancy; nothing too ornate.

Now, here’s the interesting angle and the subject of this post: In southwest Florida, such as in Collier county, a decent number of A. carolinensis have a slightly different dewlap design. Rather than a light pink base tone, the A. carolinensis dewlaps of southwest Florida can appear slightly greenish or grayish. Though we’ve been to Collier county more than a few times, this was the first time we were able to track down and photograph this distinctive and different pattern:

As it turned out, we were ultimately able to snag and photograph five separate individuals sporting the less-pinkish dewlap. This was the only one still wearing its “green coat,” however, so I’m starting with this one (I’ll talk about the Carolina green anole’s ability to change colors in a forthcoming post). Some of the other gray dewlap anoles we photographed were strikingly different, but more on that later…

Now, I have to address the inevitable taxonomy/classification issue that arises because of this… Some folks consider the “gray dewlap” green anoles of south Florida to be a distinctive subspecies: Anolis carolinensis seminolus, the “Southern green anole.” The typical pink-dewlapped green anoles would then be the nominate subspecies, Anolis carolinensis carolinensis, aka the Carolina green anole or, alternatively, the Northern green anole. At this time, I haven’t really read enough convincing research to justify subspecies designations between the pink- and gray-dewlapped anoles of the United States. In fact, I’ve seen plenty of pink-dewlapped green anoles in the same location where we found our five gray-dewlapped green anoles on this trip. From my (albeit limited) perspective, then, the gray dewlap seems to be a phenotypic trait simply more common in some parts of south Florida than it is elsewhere. Regional variance of phenotypic traits is not uncommon in lizards and in snakes, and I’m not sure we need new subspecies designations for every little phenotypic variance out there… but, then again, I’m not exactly an expert on the genomics of All Things Anolis. I’ll stay tuned in for updates, but for now I treat both pink- and gray-dewlap anoles as simply Anolis carolinensis.

To learn more about Green anoles and their legion of anole species, be sure to check out Anole Annals! For a more specific connection, check out this post responding to another gray dewlap A. carolinensis observation from Collier county. I have four additional not-too-pinkish A. carolinensis individuals lined up and ready to post, some with rather striking dewlaps, all in good time and each with its own angle.

We’ll close with two more profiles of our first “not-too-pinkish” individual:

3 Comments on “Spring Break 2018: In Search of Gray-Dewlap Green Anoles (Part I)

  1. Pingback: Spring Break 2018: In Search of Gray-Dewlap Green Anoles (Part II) – floridensis

  2. Pingback: Spring Break 2018: In Search of Gray-Dewlap Green Anoles (Part III) – floridensis

  3. Pingback: Spring Break 2018: In Search of Gray-Dewlap Green Anoles (Part IV) – floridensis

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