My lizards are on Atlas Obscura!

Geoffrey Giller is a recurring character on the blog and while people are usually most impressed by his terrific science journalism, or maybe his stunning nature photography, I’m very proud to share that he’s on his way to becoming a champion lizard catcher!

Geoffrey has helped out on trips to Redonda and to the Bahamas and will be returning with me to Redonda next month (more on that soon). He recently wrote a piece on Atlas Obscura about the Bahamas work and the lizard colony at Harvard that I wanted to highlight. You can see it here. Enjoy!


Geoffrey with an Antiguan Racer on one of the offshore islands of Antigua. This snake has made a stunning comeback thanks to years of dedicated conservation efforts. You can read more about the project here.

An update on taking toepad pictures

This is an update from my previous blog post on Toepad pictures. 


I’ve taken more than four hundred toepad pictures using the new macro photography technique I introduced  in an earlier post and I’ve learned a few tricks that I want to share in this update.

First and foremost, I highly recommend this approach. For those of you looking to capture a lot of toepad data, particularly in the field, this kit is way faster and more portable than using a flatbed scanner and the images I’m getting are at least as sharp.


A few tips:

  • Petri dishes work great as a clear platform to place the lizard feet on. I found that the 60 mm diameter dishes were much easier to balance atop the lens (~40 mm in diameter) than the larger dishes I’d originally shown.
  • I cut and taped a scale bar to one edge of the petri dish so I wouldn’t have to worry about juggling a lizard and a tape measure.
  • Make sure you have several petri dishes – they scratch fast – and keep some ethanol and a kimwipe close at hand.


  • The app that lets you remotely trigger your iPhone is absolutely maddening. Do not download it. I’m not even going to relink the name. Instead, I suggest a much more stable alternative: connect your phone to your computer with the USB cable, open QuickTime Player, select File > New Movie Recording and click the down arrow next to the record button. This will give you the option to select your attached iPhone as a recording device. This live-view is far more stable and less frustrating. *Windows and android users I’m afraid I haven’t had an opportunity to sort out a solution for those platforms. If you know of something that works, please include in the comments!


Unfortunately, through the live view all you can see is whether the lizard is in position. You cannot remotely trigger the shutter this way. That means you’ll need a second pair of hands to help. I found it worked best when my partner was in charge of putting the ID tag in the frame after I’d placed the lizard foot and then pushing the volume button on the side of the phone to trigger the camera shutter.

  • Lighting is really important. I suggested a headlamp in the previous post providing an oblique light source through the diffuser around the lens. I tried using a microscope fiber optic light source but I was really unhappy with the “warmth” of the light. I found that the white-LEDs in my headlamp produced a much more realistic looking image (see above). Also, make sure you don’t have any light sources above/behind the subject. Backlighting confuses the camera’s auto-contrasting and results in dark and sometimes unfocused images.

red dewlap

A new method for taking toepad pictures in the field!

This is a reblog of a post I wrote over on Anole Annals


Getting good pictures of lizard toepads in the field can be tricky. Flatbed scanners are heavy and don’t take well to transit bumps and bruises, and getting a digital camera to focus on the toe, not the glass, requires surgical precision on the manual focus ring. I’ve just found a new solution for an iPhone (or GooglePixel, if that’s how you roll), and I’m eager to share.

Continue reading

The Losos lab is taking to the sky


I’m very excited to get some new tech out into the field asap! The Losos lab has decided to get a bird’s eye view of lizard habitat so we’ve just brought home this beautiful DJI Mavic Pro. It’s a little hard to tell from the photo but the drone folds up to be approximately the size of a Nalgene bottle! Our hope is to use it to survey lizard habitats from the sky and create high-resolution 3D maps of some of our field sites. As habitat structure is so important for lizard natural history, we’re thinking this is going to give us some cool new perspective on the habitats lizards are adapting to.

Look forward to many more posts with lots of video but for now the other postdoc, Anthony, and I are just trying to get a handle on flying toy drones…

I’m embarrassed to say this video was one of our most successful attempts… We’ve some more practicing to do before we get the big one out in the field!

Finished my first postdoc!

I’ve just finished my first postdoc appointment!

Let me qualify that a bit: I’m “finished” in that I’ve been paid all I’m getting paid for that project. Unfortunately, I’ve only completed about half of the work I’m hoping to do for the team, so I’ve really got a long ways to go yet.

Way back in June I started working on a big project in the Losos lab looking at patterns of morphological and genetic variation in a widespread lizard species, Anolis sagrei (also called the Festive Anole) across its range in the Caribbean. The field trip I took to the Bahamas last year was a part of this project.


Anolis sagrei, the Festive Anole

The project is two pronged and there are (were) two of us postdocs leading the charge on the day-to-day work here on campus. I’ve been trying to keep track of all of the questions with data that’s lizard-sized and larger. The other postdoc, Anthony is master of all of the genetic methods and questions about things (much) smaller than lizards.

The festive anole can be found on a whole lot of islands in the Caribbean (and it’s making its way onto the mainland in Central America and the southeastern US). Across that range it can be found in a variety of habitats from mangrove forests or beach scrub all the way to primary old growth forests (where those forests can still be found). The first stage of the project was gathering morphological data on the species across the many different habitats it inhabits to better understand the drivers and extent of the considerable morphological variation we see across these areas.


Above is just an example of male A. sagrei from three different islands in the dataset. Look at all that variation in dewlap color!

The second part of the project is a massive breeding experiment. We’re trying to look at the reproductive compatibility of different A. sagrei populations that have been isolated from each other for millions of years. Our thinking is that over this time they’ll have evolved differences in body size or dewlap color, for example, that prevent them from interbreeding successfully. The breeding experiment is underway and will be for a while longer.

So, what’s next? Well, last spring I won a three year fellowship from the National Science Foundation to conduct my own research at Harvard. My funding for that project started January first so I’m fleshing out plans for next steps. I’ll update you more on those plans, but it’s going to involve quite a bit more time back in Europe with my old friends, Podarcis. As that’s gearing up though I’ll be analyzing the data I’ve collected this last Fall, trying to keep on top of all of these breeding lizards, oh, and heading to a deserted island only accessible by helicopter to get baseline data on three endangered, endemic lizard species in partnership with the government of Antigua and Barbuda. Hope that’s enough of a teaser to keep you tuned for more!


Woah. It’s 2017 already

Egads. There’s a lot to catch up on! The 4 months of 2016 was absolutely breakneck – I can’t believe I haven’t talked about postdoc-ing on the blog yet! Sorry! I’ve a lot to catch you all up with and there’s been lots of great stuff going on. I’m going to put together a bunch of posts this weekend to try to get you up to speed. Til then, here’s a pretty anole from Christmas in Georgia that’ll tease the tone of the Fall.

Sorry for the long absence, looking forward to catching everyone up with the goings on here at Harvard.