Working on Redonda

As I said in the previous Redonda post, I’m headed to the island in search of the three endemic species of lizards living there. My goal is to gather as much baseline data as possible on the natural history of these lizards so we can come back in a year, or in 10 years and see how they’ve changed without killer rats chasing them and hungry goats munching all of the vegetation.

That’s easier said than done though.

First, here’s a picture of Redonda taken by Dr. Jenny Daltry, the FFI scientist coordinating these efforts (and featured in that video I posted).

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Photo: Dr. Jenny Daltry, FFI via news.mongobay.com

The first, fairly unmissable thing to notice is that Redonda is surrounded by cliffs straight into the sea. This picture actually shows the pleasant, accessible side of the island! Here’s the other:

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Photo from toptenz.net.

So getting onto the island is going to be a bit of a trick. In 1964, the herpetologist that first described Anolis nubilis, Skip Lazell, described making a harrowing jump from boat to shore and scrabbling up a guano-coated sluiceway in order to get to the lizards. Another researcher I talked with tried to swim from boat to island twice and never managed to clamber up those slopes. So, if not by sea, then by air. We’ll be helicoptering into Redonda (!) and, if I have my way, we’ll be blaring the Jurassic Park theme.

In order to get as much of this one-shot data as possible I’m taking along two team members to help out. Geoff Giller is a friend from Yale and a terrific photographer and science journalist. Anthony Herrel, will also be coming along. He’s popped up more than a few times on my blog; we’ve been working together in Greece for the last several years.

We’re going to be on Redonda for 8 days. Yup. Eight days dodging rats and chasing lizards. That should be challenge enough, but to make things more interesting, there’s no fresh water anywhere on the island. We’re going to have to bring all of our food and water to the island via helicopter. Of course, it’s going to be in the 80s the whole time we’re there and with only 1 tree on the whole island, shade is going to be scarce, so I’m thinking we’re going to go through that water pretty fast.

Of course, since there aren’t any people living on the island, there’s no electricity. Normally I’d be kind of excited to be “unplugged” and off the grid for a week but alas, some of my research equipment needs power. Lots of power. So I’ve got a solar array coming along to keep computers and spectrophotometers running. Then there are the cameras. So many cameras. We’re bringing 3 GoPros, 2 DSLR digital cameras, 1 handheld video camera for behavior analyses, and a drone. Power consumption is definitely going to be problematic – I’ve been trying to calculate energy consumption rates for all these things over and over to figure out if we’re going to make it. Then there’s memory storage for all those devices… in all Geoff and I are bringing almost a terabyte of flash cards. Egads.

All of that equipment is going to be worth it though! We’re going to get the first ever comprehensive data on what these lizards look like, how they behave, and how they fit into their current ecological community. The next question is when the community shifts to no longer include these invasive pests, how are the lizards going to adapt? Stay tuned!

 

 

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Redonda

I know this is a bit last minute notice but it seems like that’s how this whole project has been. I’m headed to Redonda in a week!

Redonda you ask? Never heard of it? Yeah, well, neither had I. Redonda is a little tiny island in the Lesser Antilles and to save you the trouble of searching for it, here it is on a map:

(you’re going to have to zoom out a few clicks to get some context)

Redonda is owned by the government of Antigua and Barbuda. Up until a few days ago the only residents on the island were goats, rats, and three species of endemic lizard. (Alright, there are a few avian reptiles too but my mother’s the birder of the family and the four-legged ones are just so much cooler). I say up until a few days ago because the government of Antigua and Barbuda have decided to designate a beautiful, massive new marine sanctuary with Redonda as the jewel in the center. The only problem being that that jewel is currently crawling with goats and rats and that just won’t do!

In partnership with some great conservation organizations (Flora and Fanua International [FFI] taking the lead) the goats are being ferried off the island (they are a rare breed) and the rats are being removed somewhat less ceremoniously with a highly targeted poison that won’t hurt any of the native species. You can read more background on the project here. The removal of goats and rats is going to change the face of Redonda.

Judging from other islands in the neighborhood, Redonda probably used to be covered with lots of vegetation and was definitely a lot more lush than it is today. Unfortunately, after goats and rats were introduced a little over a century ago all of that vegetation has been nibbled down, making Redonda into a barren boulder moonscape. Conditions are so harsh now that the goats are actually dying of starvation (you know it’s bad when even goats can’t find something green to nibble) and the rats have turned into diurnal apex predators, stalking lizard prey even in daytime!

This is particularly problematic because the only place in the whole world these three lizard species are found is on this island. There’s a little tiny gecko that’s so rare it doesn’t even have a formal scientific name yet. There’s a large “ground lizard” called Ameiva atrata that is almost completely black and looks really awesome. And there is an anole called Anolis nubilis, known as the Redonda tree lizard. That name is unfortunately ironic because there is exactly one tree left on the entire island. It’s a non-native Casuarina species from Australia that was planted on the island decades ago and was so unpalatable that even the starving goats let it be!

It’s for these lizards that I’m headed to Redonda. I’m teaming up with FFI and the government of Antigua and Barbuda to put together as comprehensive a dataset as possible on these lizards in the wild. Our goal is to see how they change as Redonda recuperates following the rat and goat removal.  I’m flying to Antigua in exactly 1 week and I’ll be in Redonda 2 days after that. Over the next few days I’ll post a few more times with details of the trip. I’m extremely excited but my brain is fairly bursting with packing lists and contingency plans. I’m looking forward to filling you in on the details.

More stories around the web!

These little lizards in NY and CT sure are capturing a lot of peoples’ imaginations! The story has been picked up now in quite a few places! Here are a few that you might like to check out:

First and foremost, Peregrine Frissell, the author of the first Greenwich Time piece that started the momentum wrote a terrific follow up after going out into the field with Max, Greg, and I. You should definitely read it here – he had a photographer out in the field with him who got a bunch of GREAT shots!

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That story’s been taken up in the Washington Times and by SFGate all the way out in California. Peregrine’s piece also inspired a post on the Mother Nature Network.

The NYTimes piece by Jim Dwyer really took off, and for good reason. If you haven’t seen it yet I’d highly encourage you to read it.

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You can also catch the story at (e)ScienceThe Barre Montpelier Times Argus, NewsInn.org (with a cool (uncredited) header photo), WorldPrimetime, Singapore News, Headlines News 24, Digital News World, World of Online News. Alright, I’ll admit most of those are just news aggregators scraping off NYTimes headlines, but the Times did send the article out in the day’s Evening Briefing so that’s super exciting!

In searching for all those links (there are about twice that many easily found on google) I did find one gem. According to NewsDiffs, a site that tracks changes in articles after they are first published, the NYTimes article was first called “Immigrants To New York, Small but Fit, Seek New Turf.” I’m glad he swapped to “A Lizard That Made It in New York Heads North.”

I’m excited that these lizards are resonating with people and I’m looking forward to more lizard trips in the future to keep you updated on where they’re going and what they’re doing!

 

 

Another search for Greenwich Lizards

I just returned from another trip down to Greenwich looking for Italian Wall Lizards. They’re still there and going strong! Right now we’re trying to find new populations and figure out just how far up the coast they’ve made it. As near as we can tell, so far, their northernmost extent seems to be right around the Cos Cob train station. If you’ve seen any lizards north or east of Cos Cob harbor definitely let me know!

Here are a few pictures of lizards from these last trips:

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I like this picture – can you see the male hiding behind the female, further up the wall?

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This fellow is trying to get into the basement!

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Here’s Max, chasing a lizard into the vegetable garden.

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More leads on lizards in CT

This weekend a great article about the Italian Wall Lizards in Greenwich was published in the Greenwich Time. Give it a look here. Thanks to Peregrine Frissell for the interview.

I’m excited because new tips are starting to roll in about lizards in Southern CT and New York. It turns out lizard diversity in the area is higher than expected – we’re getting reports of some other species too:

Here’s a cute little Sceloporus:

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(Photo credit: K. Ladd)

And here’s Anolis sagrei, the “festive anole” a long way from home!

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(Photo credit: K. Eisley)

Very cool lizards but we’re on the lookout for this guy, Podarcis siculus:

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Here are a bunch more pictures. Email me to let me know if you think you’ve seen one in your backyard!

And some high-speed videos

Yesterday’s post was a bit of teaser for the setup of the high-speed video. Now let’s see a couple of examples! (For full effect, I’d recommend playing this on full volume in the background. Rest assured, once we have a highlight reel of lizard runs we’ll definitely be creating a montage of our own)

There’s all sorts of cool stuff going on in this video I had never seen before. For example, notice as the fellow is running into the frame at full tilt he does a little hop and lands with all four feet planted and comes to an almost immediate halt. He then looks left to right to survey his surroundings, and as my big scary hand approaches, turns, pushes off with forelimbs and then generates speed with some big back-leg strides that cause his back to twist with the momentum. He navigates the corners cleanly, but slowly, pausing to look around the corner. Remember though, all of this happens within the span of about a second and a half in real-time.

Now look at this enthusiastic fellow:

He comes barreling in and can’t stop to notice the impending wall. His first crash just turns his head but he sure doesn’t look like he’s attempting to negotiate the turn. At the second crash he crumples and decides a different tact might be best; perhaps climbing the wall and getting out (though it looks more like he’s tap dancing). Again, all of this is happening faster than the eye can really register but at 500 frames per second we’re given a new perspective on these two very different runs.

So now comes the analysis, and this is going to be tricky. Menelia recorded 885 videos and each averages about 2.5 seconds in length. At 500 frames per second that works out to some 1.1 million frames of video to process… Know any good books on tape?