Thursday, April 25, 2013

Ode to an anole

They are often called "chameleons" by Houston homeowners who don't know that they are actually small iguanas
The Carolina anole readily changes color from green to brown and back again, hence the confusion relating to "chameleon".

This guy is eyeing a Monarch butterfly caterpillar, but them's not good eatin'.   
In the greater Houston area, we reportedly have two related species - the native Carolina anole and the invasive brown anole which tends to displace it at lower vegetative levels.  Maybe because most of my gardening is done in raised containers, I seem to have a preponderance of the natives in my yard.
Dude, you look like crap - there's just no other way to say it. 

Like other lizards, they shed their skin as they grow.  This guy was caught in the act. 
They are amazingly fast.  This is the same skin-shedder taking flight and photographed at a speed of 1/125 second, and the camera still can't touch him. 
According to what I've read, these two species can be distinguished in part by the fact that Carolinas can turn green and the browns can only vary themselves among different shades of brown.  But if you're examining one, chances are that it's frightened, and they tend to all go to brown when stressed, so that makes it a bit difficult to tell them apart.
Am I brown or am I a really a green guy who has simply turned brown for the moment?

Most of the time, they are far too skittish to allow themselves to be touched, but I've noticed that their territorial disputes tend to make them irrationally bold.  This guy was in the process of fighting with someone else when I took this pic, and he refused to cede his ground. 
A brown or a brown phase Carolina perched on the edge of one of my culvert gardens.   Dare anything with six legs attempt to gain access to this area. 
This is what's cool about anoles: They eat bugs.  Lots and lots of bugs.  They cruise around methodically all day long eating bugs, especially on vegetable plants, which disproportionately attract bugs.  I don't think I could even begin to garden organically in this area if I didn't have an army of anoles out there on patrol.  I don't have to pay them anything - they show up and do the bug control for free.  Because I garden and landscape so intensively, and because Carolinas like to be up off the ground, my corresponding anole density is impressive.  At any time during the day, I can go to a vegetable stock tank and find at least a few anoles in it, enthusiastically engaged in their lizardly work. 

They're fun to watch with their leaping and color-shifting and territorial antics, and they're photogenic, too.  Count yourself lucky if your yard is home to a healthy population of them. 

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