A video from Pine Cay, Turks and Caicos

I haven’t posted all that many photos from our time in Turks and Caicos, in part because I was worried about my friends on the islands as Hurricanes Irma and then Maria rolled through. Luckily the team stayed safe through both storms. Unfortunately, the damage and time delay from the storms means that the eradication efforts are going to have to be put on hold for a year.

Before the eradication was postponed I put together this little video. I held off posting it when the project future was in limbo but it seems a waste not to share it. We will be continuing this work and returning as soon as we can to look at the Anoles of Pine Cay following removal of the rats. It’s just going to be a slightly longer timeline than originally planned.

Hope you enjoy the footage. Remember to watch on “HD.”

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I’m back from Turks and Caicos

I’m back from Turks and Caicos, and not a moment too soon. For those of you watching the weather they’re buckling down for a pretty hard hit from Hurricane Irma. I’ll update you all with more information about the trip – it was fantastic – but for now just wanted to post a few pictures and say I’m safe and sound back in Cambridge!

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Next stop, Turks and Caicos!

Frequent visitors to the blog will remember my Redonda adventure earlier this year. If you want to catch up, here are a few posts about my trip to Antigua and Barbuda, and from there to the remote island of Redonda. My goal was to collect baseline data so I could figure out how three endemic lizards adapt following a rat extermination effort.

The group responsible for the rat eradication is at it again, this time in Turks and Caicos.  Next week, I’m headed to Pine Cay to see how lizards, specifically Anolis scriptus, will change following the eradication.

I don’t have pictures to share just yet, but here’s a map of the destination:

(by the way, who could possibly give this place a one-star review?!)

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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.

 

Reporting on the Reptiles of Redonda

This post is reposted from www.anoleannals.com and so might be a little familiar in its start to readers here.

IMG_4616I’m back from Redonda and the expedition was a great success! I’m happy to report there were many Anolis nubilus boulder-hopping out of the way of the black rats and even blacker ground lizards on the island. In many ways the trip was even more challenging than expected but we came out with quite a lot of data so we have a great sense of the current status of the reptiles on the island and a baseline for comparisons into the future.

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To refresh your memories, Redonda is an island of Antigua and Barbuda and was completely denuded by rats and goats over the last century. Despite the dearth of vegetation, three endemic reptiles had been hanging on: Anolis nubilusAmeiva (Pholidoscelis) atrata, and an as-yet unnamed Sphaerodactylus dwarf gecko. The government of Antigua and Barbuda, in collaboration with Fauna & Flora International and local NGO the Environmental Awareness Group, has decided to undertake a massive restoration effort by eradicating the rats and relocating the goats. My job was to get some baseline data on the current lizard populations so we can figure out how they change into the future.

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Helicoptering to the island was every bit as exciting as I’d hoped. The Jurassic Park theme was playing through my head the whole way down. See that grassy patch with slightly fewer large rocks – that was the little tiny helipad, but our pilot was a pro and set us down perfectly. Almost as soon as we were out of the helicopter, we deposited our bags by our tents and set about catching Anoles.

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Anolis nubilus is at first blush a relatively innocuous member of the genus. They’re perfectly camouflaged in this environment, which is to say they’re drab gray and brown. Their dewlaps are cream-colored (which is really just my nice way to say drab gray-yellow) and the most elaborate of the females sport faint dorsal stripes. Males did fairly regularly display impressive crests behind their heads, but nonetheless, the species at first and second glance is considerably less flashy than many of their cousins on nearby islands.

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Photo: Geoffrey Giller

All that said, there’s still a lot of cool stuff going on with nubilus. As Skip mentioned in his article 45 years ago, there’s a casuarina tree right next to the remains of the mine manager’s house that hosts an abundance of the few Redonda tree lizards living up to their name. The tree is still there and the lizards are still eagerly defending their precious few branches (see above).

There are actually quite a few trees still on Redonda, some of which are native Ficus trees. For the most part they’re in fairly inaccessible areas, but that really just means you need to bring a longer noose pole and don’t look down. I caught a lizard on this tree below with a perch height of approximately 350 meters (that’s really going to mess with the averages). Truth be told, after catching the lizard my knees were so wobbly I had to go find a nice big boulder and just had Geoff and Anthony shout me data for a while.

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After a week on the island and many many Anoles, we got morphometric and performance data, diet data, extended focal-animal behavior videos, two mark-recapture density studies and two permanent transects established, thermal ecology data, habitat use data, and flight behavior data. We even exhaustively determined whether nubilus likes Chuckles! (But that’s a story for another post).

I know this is an Anole blog, but there were some pretty cool things going on with the other reptiles on the island, too. The ground lizards were jet black and really big. Here’s a picture of Anthony Herrel trying to get a tail measurement:

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Photo: Geoffrey Giller

The atrata spent their days cruising around scavenging. We saw one eating a hermit crab, and we heard rumor of another that managed to get a sardine away from one of the crew working on the eradication effort! Analyzing the stomach contents of these guys is going to take quite a lot of detective work.

We also were able to gather the first natural history data on this unnamed dwarf gecko species. They’re strangely beautiful with an unlovely shovel-face and semi-transparent, too-squishy, gelatinous body. You wouldn’t guess it but they’re quick! 1D4_1226editlarge

In all, the reptiles of Redonda were fascinating and getting to explore the island was a unique privilege. I can hardly wait to return next year, and many years after, to see how the lizards change with the island.

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“What about us?” Technically these guys are reptiles too, but c’mon, the lizards are so much cooler. Photo: Geoffrey Giller

Describing A. nubilus

 

img_4456-e1487604077456.jpgDr. James “Skip” Lazell Jr. was the first to formally describe Anolis nubilus in a 1972 publication from the Bulletin of the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard. Above are two of his drawings of the species from the publication. He’s a colorful and evocative writer so I’m going to let his description of his 1964 trek to find the species and his subsequent notes on their ecology stand on their own.

From “The Anoles (Sauria, Iguanidae) of the Lesser Antilles” Volume 143, No.1. 1972.

Distribution. Anolis nubilus occurs only on Redonda. This tiny islet is exceedingly steep-to, and rises nearly 1000 feet out of the sea. There is virtually no surrounding bank, and the full swell of the western North Atlantic pounds Redonda’s cliffs. A tiny, nearly vertical gut on the leeward side provides the only access to the top of the islet up the cliffs; great blocks of basalt lie at the foot of this gut, and one’s original entrance to Redonda is made by jumping onto these blocks as the boat goes past them. It is about like jumping from a moving elevator onto a card table, except that elevators give more notice of directional reversals…but getting on is just the beginning.

The islet is a great block of igneous extrusive: strata of basalt and the peculiarly conglomeratelike, porphyritic material so often the result of Antillean vulcanism. The top of Redonda is a rolling wold, and a favorite place of innumerable nesting sea birds; the gut provides a route for their guano to descend the cliffs, and it dries to a thick powder there. Because of its leeward location, a chimney effect is produced in the gut, and the guano dust, mixed with the volcanic sand weathered from the parent rock, tends to rise when disturbed. As one toils up the gut under the tropical sun, one is accompanied by a cloud of this dust, which soon mingles with ones’ own sweat to produce a wondrously aromatic and abrasive, though rather gluey, bath. At the top, jumbles of rocks and clumps of prickly pear rise gently to the old ruins, complete with a hedge of Bougainvillea and the single tree. This is the home of Anolis nubilus.

Population structure and ecology. Anolis nubilus is not abundant, but occurs all over Redonda. Owing to the lack of trees, it seems to dwell mostly in the shade of large rocks close to ground. In the ruins of the old building and on the one tree (a Casuarina, apparently inedible even to goats), A. nubilus climb as high as they can get: about fifteen feet. This species must compete with the large, glossy black ground lizard, Ameiva atrata, for at least some of its food. Surely Redonda once supported more vegetation and presumably Anolis nubilus then had an easier life. The feral goats should be extirpated on this remarkable island, whose only known nonflying vertebrates are species found nowhere else on earth.