Living in South Florida, there’s never a dearth of interesting critters. One never knows what shall be encountered while gardening, even.
While getting some heavy pruning and weeding done before our approaching tropical storm, I was greeted by a bright green face amid one of our tree’s branches. Not a small guy, either — easily a foot-plus in length! At first, I thought he was a green anole…or a chameleon? I dropped everything, and ran with muddy shoes to fetch my camera to stalk him as he traveled through our trees.
She won’t leave me alone…
I’ll eat one of her songbirds if she doesn’t stop with the paparazzi…
Upon further investigation, I now realize he’s a Knight anole, a non-native critter and the largest species of anole — growing up to 13-20 inches in length. Knight anoles are usually bright green, as seen here, but can change to brown colorations. They sport yellow or white stripes under the eyes and over the shoulder, and the tail is slightly serrated. Introduced from Cuba, they’re becoming increasingly common in South Florida, but will be unable to survive north Florida’s freezes. Most research shows proof of introduction in Dade and Broward, but they’ve obviously made it north, to Palm Beach county…. As further evidenced by our guy, these Knight anoles are at home in the higher shady canopies of trees, where they eat insects, other lizards, and even small birds and mammals. Sadly, many of the introduced non-native lizards are eating our native (and smaller) lizards.
Give up the ghost. Blend with tree in a failed attempt to hide from camera.
- Knight anoles can live up to 15-16 years of age in both captivity and in the wild
- Each toe expands to form an adhesive pad, allowing the anoles to easily maneuver smooth, vertical surfaces and horizontal planes
There are myriad lizards in our Florida wilds — chirping geckos, monitors, prehistoric basilisks, stealthy iguanas, invasive curlytails, skinks, lined racerunners, and colorful anoles, just to name a few. But the anoles stand out in ever-lovely radiance. I’ve had the luck to spot not only green, but rare yellow-phased anoles — and now, a newly discovered (and as yet, unwritten) mutation — orange!
While I haven’t seen anything scientific written on this new color variant to date, a few others have noted their existence in South Florida in the last few months. At first, it was considered an oddity — or perhaps a side-effect of the high concentration of iron in the ground water. However, I captured this guy in the wilds of the northern section of the Everglades, not in an urban neighborhood with sprinkler systems. FASCINATING! The red/orange coloration of these anoles is curious and striking, and it will be interesting to read further input of their new color-phased mutation in the upcoming months.
An Orange Anole knows he’s special in the Grassy Waters Preserve
Orange Anole shows off his equally orange dewlap in the Grassy Waters Preserve
During a walk through Fern Forest, a magnificent 247-acre conservation site and wildlife refuge characterized as “the last remaining stronghold of ferns in southeastern Florida,” we spied a rare yellow anole (aka yellow-phased green anole). Unfortunately, anoles with this unique color mutation don’t usually live long in the wild, as the green coloring offers them valuable camouflage for hunting prey and hiding from predators. Colonies of these rare color-phased anoles have been reported — and I like to think this guy was part of one….
A Yellow-phased Green Anole in Fern Forest
Far into our hike on the Hog Hammock Trail in the Grassy Waters Preserve — on a particularly hot and humid, but fortunately cloudy day — I spied a flash of green at the water’s edge. Luckily it was a *small* green flash. A green anole kindly took the time to pose for me and my camera.
A Green Anole poses along the Hog Hammock Trails in Grassy Waters
“All you need to do is hold on tight…and believe.” —Stephen King
We made our second visit to a wonderful 24-mile-large Everglades preserve this weekend (more images forthcoming, it’s beautiful land) — an area new to us, so each trail is an adventure. What’s so wonderful is that we’ve been completely alone each visit, save the rustling of the critters, a magnificent great-horned owl (sadly, no picture, as we startled each other within a matter of feet), and the awe-inspiring trees, wetlands, and swamps. Entering one trail, there was a ruckus among a saw palmetto plant, and a tiny lizard popped out of its depths — it doesn’t take much to create a cacophony in their noisy fronds. He simply sat on a nearby twig, seemingly perturbed at the brief interruption. Cutie.
Brave Lizard Along the Trail at Grassy Waters Preserve
Trailhead at Grassy Waters Preserve
Everglades Vista of the Grassy Waters Preserve
“It’s a Jesus Lizard.”
“Eh? Come again?”
That was many years ago, when I saw my first lizard walking on water. It’s the common name for the basilisk lizard genus, known for its unique ability to walk and run, as a biped, across water. Basilisks are native to the tropical rain forests of southern Mexico, Central America, and northern South America, meaning they’re non-indigenous to Florida. To date, the furthest north they’ve been spotted is Ft. Pierce. Part of the iguana family, basilisks can reach 2 feet in length, including their long tail. The high crests on the males’ heads and backs are used to impress females.
On water, basilisks can run on their hind limbs at about 5 feet per second for approximately 15 feet, before sinking to all fours and swimming. I’ve often seen them running across solid surfaces as well however, and this National Geographic article describes the complicated mechanics of the basilisk lizard’s movements. During times of danger, basilisks will swim at fast speeds, using their crests as rudders. They also burrow in the sand — a ring of muscles around both nostrils prevents grains of sand from entering the nose. Since being introduced to Florida, and a slightly cooler environment, they’ve taken to burrowing in the leafy undergrowth (something I commonly witness).
Although they’re not huge — big enough to notice, for sure — they definitely have a prehistoric air to them. I call them Little Godzillas whenever I see them on our hikes. And their name helps this primeval aura…. BASILISK. I hope they can stay safe in their selected home; they’ve chosen an area which is now home to no less than three alligator nests — slightly larger reptiles.
Basilisk Lizard (Jesus Lizard) in the Florida Wetlands
Basilisk Lizard (Jesus Lizard) in the Florida Wetlands
Basilisk Lizard (Jesus Lizard) in the Florida Wetlands: Hello, FACE!
Hiking in Florida affords an onslaught of lush landscape, but in the dry winter months, all shades of brown rule. As spring dawns, the greens return and the colors alight. During our recent venture to Broward County’s Fern Forest, a magnificent 247-acre conservation site and wildlife refuge characterized as “the last remaining stronghold of ferns in southeastern Florida,” we witnessed a barrage of yellows and oranges (the colors of the day, as my mind flashed to an episode of Sesame Street). This beautiful and diverse natural area represents the last remnant of the historical Cypress Creek floodway — which today, remains a significant refuge for wildlife in a highly urbanized region, encompassing ten plant communities, including tropical hardwood hammock, open prairie, and cypress-maple swamp.
After leaving the shaded canopy of the Prairie Overlook Trail — the shade of which was already much appreciated with our rapidly rising temperatures — a riot of bright yellow Prickly-pear cactus blooms greeted us in the open prairie. And upon our departure from the Cypress Creek Trail (a wonderful boardwalk), we spied a rare yellow anole (aka yellow-phased green anole); unfortunately, anoles with this unique color mutation don’t usually live long in the wild, as the green coloring offers them valuable camouflage for hunting prey and hiding from predators.
A Ruddy Daggerwing butterfly (Marpesia petreus), a common sight in Florida, alights near the hardwood hammock…
For More Information: