More video from the Bahamas

Despite the rain on the last day, the weather and setting for the whole trip was pretty near perfect. Jon Suh, one of the pro lizard wranglers on Eleuthera and Long Island, put together this video documenting the adventure:

 

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Frog Party

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I’m back from the Bahamas but leaving for Greece tomorrow afternoon! Whew. I knew it was going to be a fast turnaround but my head’s spinning trying to keep track of the simultaneous fieldwork wrap-up and start-up to-do lists. I have a couple of pictures and videos ready to share from the Bahamas though so I want to get them posted quick before the next adventure is in full swing.

All in all the Bahamas visit was a success. We shipped 360 lizards back to Harvard for a big breeding experiment and got more data on habitat use for well over 1200 lizards across Eleuthera, Long, and Bimini islands. The team was terrific, the lizards were plentiful, and the weather was perfect. Well, almost.

The final day of fieldwork was a complete washout. As Raphaël said, “C’est la fête à la grenouille” – a party for frogs. Alas, we were after lizards, not frogs, so we stayed in until the last minute hoping it might clear. When it became obvious that a thorough drenching was inevitable though, Raphaël and I put on our swimsuits and set out. We needed to return all of the lizards that we’d caught that we weren’t bringing back to Harvard with us. It was a sloppy wet hour and a half for us but I’m pretty sure the lizards appreciated being brought back home.

Here’s a short video documenting the adventure:

 

A quick picture update from the Bahamas

There’s lots going on here in the field. We’ve just wrapped up collecting on Eleuthera and Long Island. I’m back on New Providence swapping out crew. Rob left after Eleuthera. He swapped spots with Geoff. We just lost Jon – a champion lizard catcher on Eleuthera and Long. Raphaël is still here and we’re being joined by Angus and Pavitra tomorrow. The rapidly switching roster is actually the least of the logistics worries but today, with twenty-dozen lizards safely ensconced in a cooler on their way back to Boston, I’m finally taking a few deep breaths.

Here are just a few pictures from the field. I’ll bolster them with a prosier post as soon as I can.

Here’s our quarry, Anolis sagrei, the “festive” anole.

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And here’s one with dewlap unfurled.

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This was Rob’s first time catching Anoles. Here’s his face after his first successful lasso.

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Three days later he was catching like a pro while reposed under thorn bushes.

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We’re catching a lot of lizards for this study – 120 per island. Here are a few in a lizard bag waiting for sorting.

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While we’re catching lizards we’re also gathering data on their behavior and ecology – where they’re piercing and how warm that perch is for example. Here are Raph and Rob typing in some of the data. We’ve got well over 600 observations so far.

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We’ve been doing a bit of driving between sites. Not a problem though with scenery like this. Note, the steering wheel is on the American side but the roads are all reversed (Thanks Great Britain). This causes some consternation trying to get used to the unfamiliar lane position with a familiar vehicle layout. Oddly, 2 of the 3 cars I’ve driven this trip have been reversed in this way. This however was the only car with a helpful red arrow to remind me where to be on the road. Luckily for these dirt paths it’s one car at a time no matter the side.

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We’ve met a few other friends in the field. Here’s Geoff with a racer snake we found in the forest.

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And here’s Anolis angusticeps, the coolest, most secretive anole we’ve seen this trip.

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Here’s the final stage – a giant cooler in the back seat of a small sedan to the airport. Just peeking over the cooler in the back there is Jon, the ringer for lizard catching.

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Bimini is our next stop for tomorrow! One more push on fieldwork, another ten dozen lizards, and then it’s back to Boston.

 

More fieldwork on the horizon

The Redonda posts have trailed off because I’m neck-deep in prepping for the next two trips this field season. I’ve still got a few more Redonda stories in mind to write up though so I’ll try to get them posted before I leave next week. I have to tell you about the next trips though!

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Next Saturday I’m headed to the Bahamas for a quick 2 week and 2 day trip to catch Anolis sagrei, the “festive anole.” This is the last field foray of my first postdoc and the second round of sampling in the Bahamas that I was a part of last fall. You can read the posts Here, here, a little disaster here, and more pretty pictures here.

We’ll be surveying lizards on three islands: Eleuthera, Long Island, and Bimini. In each of those islands we’ll be looking for lizards in two habitats – “primary” undisturbed forest and coastal beach scrub to test for differences in morphology between the populations. We’ll also be taking 360 lizards home with us to breed here in the lizard colony. Whew, sorting out those logistics – permitting, charting flights for the lizards (yes, actually), storing them happily for long periods of time – has been a huge challenge.

To help, I’m going to have 6 people along in the field with me. This is going to be great but means we’ve had to find and sort out 4 train rides, 5 car rentals, and a total of 29 different flights. I’ll be on 8 of those flights over the 16 days! I’ll try to keep posting from the field; you’re going to see some familiar faces. Rob has caught lizards with me in Connecticut before, Geoff was with me in Redonda, and Angus was one of my old field assistants in Greece!

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Rob with his first Podarcis

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(Sorry, Angus, I was looking through old pictures and I just couldn’t resist)

Three days after getting back from the Bahamas I’m hopping on a plane to Greece! Just enough time to do some laundry. Whew!

This Greece trip is another revisit to the island manipulation experiment. The islands are steadily filling up with lizards (I think… Greece did get record snow this year…) and this time around we’ve got a lot of projects going. Anthony and I will be back measuring morphology and bite force, Menelia will be there with her sprint speed setup. Kinsey is back! This time looking at the lizards’ throat color. All in all I’ll have 10 people there running around so, again, coordinating everything has been a huge effort.

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Menelia’s hoping we won’t have this much stuff this year. Shhh… nobody tell her we’re actually gonna have 5 kayaks to haul around!

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Kinsey’s excited to get back to Greece!

I’ll be in Greece until the end of May when I’m headed back to Cambridge for a much quieter summer. Stay tuned for all of the stories from the field!

 

Masters of Camouflage

Spotting these anoles in the field was one of the harder challenges of the field work in the Bahamas. They can be exceptionally well camouflaged against the right background and unlike Podarcis, they didn’t really do a lot of running until you were really close to them. Here are a few examples:

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The trick is to search for that body and head shape. Particularly when the lizard is in profile it’s a lot easier to pick out against the background.A.sagrei_RedHeadOnBranch

Of course, some don’t get the memo and perch themselves on bright green leaves:

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Without that contrast or silhouette to help though, spotting them against a complex background is tough!

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*alright, I admit this post was somewhat forced just so I could share some of my prettier lizard pictures with you.

Catching Anoles

As I alluded to in a previous post, we had to catch a lot of lizards from these sites! We needed at least 80 A. sagrei from Andros and we were also on the lookout for any other anole species we could find.

Much like my lizards in Greece, we used long fishing poles with a little loop at the end to slip around the lizard and grab them. Here’s a video demonstrating the process from Greece:

Very different however was that these anoles are quite a bit smaller than my wall lizards. Many of them weigh less than half a decent-sized Podarcis from Naxos. That meant that the nooses had to be tied with light dental floss, and the catching was a little less forgiving. If the noose was too “stiff” then the lizards would just dash right through the hole before the string could close around them.

There was one positive however: if you spook a Podarcis they often dash off and it’ll be a few minutes before you see them again for a second try. With these anoles if I startled them with a missed catch they’d often run four inches to the side and then stare up at you, allowing a second chance. And a third, and a fourth, and a fifth. Too often it came to that, they can be a bit squirrel-y around tree trunks and in the undergrowth.

One missed catch however particularly stands out in my memory – it was a first of its kind for me. I was nicely lined up for a grab of a nice sagrei when all of a sudden this bird landed on my pole! It stayed long enough for me to get a picture with my phone – see the lizard just on the other side of my noose? Well, just after I snapped the picture the bird spooked the lizard, and I didn’t see that particular sagrei again, but I think the picture is worth the missed catch. Any thoughts on the identity of the cheeky percher?

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The requisite car trouble

The roads on Andros were tough! Even the “highway” spanning the island north-to-south was dirt, and while the graters were doing their best to keep ahead of the erosion following each deluge, many of the secondary roads leading to our sites required a sturdy truck. Luckily this Yukon had been brought to the Navy base on the island some years ago and purchased by our landlord. Somehow it had over 200k miles on it! I’ve a feeling it covered most of those miles somewhere other than the 50-mile long North Andros. We rented it for the week and it performed admirably on the island’s potholes, nearly pond-sized puddles, and overgrown embankments. Truck

Of course this wouldn’t be a field trip without some kind of car troubles. We got ours out of the way on day 1. While the car put up with a lot, this massive stick jutting out along one of the roads was the end of our back tire.

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I’ve never seen such a catastrophic flat!

Luckily (and a little surprisingly) the vehicle was equipped with a spare and full tire-changing kit.

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The light faded fast, but we got the spare on with the help of a few headlamps. Of course, the spare was nearly flat with a slow leak, and we were pretty far off the beaten track. We limped back to the highway and stopped at the first convenience store we could find to ask about an air compressor. Even more luckily, there was a quarter-operated compressor only a few miles away. By the time we were there we really were practically rolling on the rims – it took two 75 cent sessions to get the tire looking approximately full again.

We never did get a replacement spare from the landlord, but luckily we didn’t need another. Aside from its insatiable appetite for gas, the Yukon held up great for the rest of the week. There’s a lot to be said for getting the equipment failures out of the way at the beginning of the trip.