UPDATE ON 11 SEPTEMBER 2011: A few folks have spoken with me and suggested that the lizards described in this post are, in fact, most likely Carolina green anoles, Anolis carolinensis, and not Cuban green anoles, Anolis porcatus. I’m willing to take their word for it, though I’m still struck by the patterns of these particular lizards in these particular locales. So now, on my next trip down-Keys, I’ll look for patterns of distribution with this particular coloring/marking schema. Thanks to all who helped with this! I’m going to leave this post co-categorized as Anolis porcatus for others tangling with similar anoles.
This post is more of a question than a statement. At issue here is the true identity of the lizard photographed above. This is either a remarkably-marked Carolina green anole, Anolis carolinensis, or a Cuban green anole, Anolis porcatus. I honestly don’t know which it is, but my spider senses tell me it’s a Cuban green anole.
For those not in the know, let’s step back and review a bit.
The Carolina green anole is indigenous to Florida. In my youth, they were common and damn near everywhere. They hunkered on the walls of houses and stood guard on the residential trees of my childhood. With the ability to change color hue from emerald green to a olive-brown, these anoles were extremely common in central Florida when I was a kid. As the years racked up, the nation’s soul eroded (thanks, Nintendo), and as the Cuban brown anoles took hold of the Floridian peninsula, the Carolina greens slowly seemed to move to higher elevations — farther up the trees, closer to the roofs.
Meanwhile, in south Florida an ecological free-for-all continued to take shape. A number of Caribbean species and subspecies of Anoles made their way to south Florida. The magnificent knight anole owned the higher tropicalia trees with the green iguanas. The Cuban browns mixed and tangled with the large-headed and bark anoles. Somewhere in the mix is the Cuban green anole — visually very similar to the native Carolina green anole, but often marked with more blotching and more figure-ground contrast.
Anoles aren’t chameleons and they don’t necessarily change color to better camoflauge themselves with backing environment. Their pigment shifts are more likely related to environmental considerations such as temperature and psychological considerations such as stress. A green anole can very easily appear brown. The trick here is in the markings… and the dewlap (the little fold of skin under the chin the males, often fanned out to impress the nearby lady folk or what-not).
Now, we come to the Florida Keys. In both 2007 and 2011 and in two distinct areas (the Key West Tropical Forest and Botanical Garden and the Key West Nature Preserve on Atlantic Blvd.) I’ve spotted what appeared to be a number of Carolina green anoles marked exceptionally with blotchings and dark stripes. I’ve seen them sporting a green coat and a the olive-brown coat, but in both cases they had the markings. Four years apart.
Now, for record, here’s your typical Carolina green anole in green-phase (photographed also at Key West Tropical Forest and Botanical Garden on the same day):
At issue here isn’t the dominant tone of the body color. Carolina greens easily and often look olive-brown like the individual photographed above. What’s at issue are those markings — those dark little blotches.
I’ve seen Carolina greens in mid-transition have similar(ish) markings, but not so pronounced and not so defined. In both 2007 and in 2011, I’ve see this pattern in these two locations and in the same ways. It could be, perhaps, a regional variation? Or it could be that there are (at least) two established populations of Cuban green anoles in the Florida Keys, if not more.
I’ve read some common literature that points toward Cuban green anoles being established in the Keys, but some of these articles include illustrations of Cuban brown anoles and green iguanas as exemplification. Thus, I’m a bit at a loss, especially since I’m not, you know, a scientist or what-not.
So, I throw it to you, dear readers –especially those from Anole Annals— to give me some advice! What say you? Carolina green anole? Or Cuban green anole?
Help me find peace and sleep.