Published July 6, 2021. Updated November 6, 2023. Open access.

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Brown Anole (Anolis sagrei)

Reptiles of Ecuador | Sauria | Anolidae | Anolis sagrei

English common name: Brown Anole.

Spanish common names: Anolis marrón, anolis café (Ecuador); abaniquillo costero Maya, lagartija chipojo (Central America).

Recognition: ♂♂ 21.3 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail. Snout–vent length=7 cm. ♀♀ 13.8 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail. Snout–vent length=5 cm..1,2 Anoles are easily distinguishable from other lizards by their diurnal habits, extensible dewlap in males, expanded digital pads, and granular scales on the dorsum and belly.3 In Ecuador, Brown Anoles (Anolis sagrei) can be recognized by being moderately robust, having a short snout, an orange-red dewlap with yellow edges and white scales, and a brownish dorsal coloration with light and dark spots.48 Individuals might change their dorsal coloration after being captured.1,9 Males are larger and more robust than females and have bigger dewlaps. Anolis sagrei has not been observed living alongside native Ecuadorian anoles yet,4 but other species occur in the same general area. Anolis binotatus has a light longitudinal lateral stripe along the body and a light band between the eyes.10 Anolis festae has a long snout and males have a white dewlap with a black base.11

Figure showing variation among individuals of Anolis sagrei

Figure 1: Individuals of Anolis sagrei from Samborondón, Guayas province, Ecuador. j=juvenile.

Natural history: In Ecuador, Anolis sagrei is an extremely common anole in city gardens and artificial wetlands near urban complexes.4,12 This species is considered a habitat generalist and is frequently associated with man-made structures and urban environments.13 It is a diurnal and heliophilic lizard, meaning individuals expose themselves constantly to direct or filtered sun.14 Brown Anoles spend the night under rocks, logs, debris6,15 or perched on low vegetation.16 Although peak activity has not been thoroughly studied in Ecuador, individuals seem to be most active from 9:00 am to 1:00 pm.12 In the Caribbean islands, most activity occurs between 8:00 am and 11:00 am.14 In Florida, the peak activity might vary according to seasonal weather.15

This species seems to prefer areas with low vegetation cover.17,18 Individuals are abundant along sidewalks, perhaps due to the high visibility of their communication signals (head-bobbing and dewlap extension) on low vegetation cover.19 Anolis sagrei belongs to the trunk-ground anole ecomorph since individuals are usually found on the ground or on lower strata.20 In Ecuador, Brown Anoles have been observed perching 0.5–1.5 m on shrubs and 2–4 m above the ground on trees.4 Adult males can be found facing downwards on perches such as lighting posts, signposts, fences, walls, or woodpiles.15 Age class and sex seem to affect microhabitat use in this species. Juveniles and adult females use the ground and lower perches more often than adult lizards and adult males respectively.21 Adult males seem to use thicker perches.22 Arboreality can also be influenced by habitat type: for example, lizards are found more often on higher and thicker perches in forested than open-canopy or intermediate areas.21

Anolis sagrei is a highly territorial lizard having small home ranges in comparison to other arboreal anoles.23 In Ecuador, home range size is approximately 16 m2 and is not affected by age class or season.24 In the Bahamas, home range is smaller in adult females and young males in comparison to adult males.23 The dispersal distance is small (mean=1.25 m in females; mean=3.18 m in males) in comparison to other lizards.25 Juveniles seem to be restricted to less favorable habitats and are more likely to disperse as they grow.25 Although female disperse at smaller distances than males,25 they tend to move to higher quality habitats resulting in high-female density in those areas.26

Brown Anoles are considered sit-and-wait or ambush predators, which means they passively wait for prey to pass by.23 Unsurprisingly, adult males eat larger prey than other demographic groups. Although juveniles and adult females have similar head size, the former eat smaller prey items.22 These lizards are generalists and have a diverse diet. In Ecuador, ants are the most commonly consumed item, followed by adult and larva beetles, spiders, bugs, flies, earwigs, roaches, gastropods, isopods, and butterflies.12 Saurophagy27 and ophiophagy28 have been reported for this lizard. Geckos,29 skinks,29 curly-tailed lizards,30 and even anole hatchlings (including members of their species)2932 have been reported as prey items. Consumption of introduced geckos such as Hemidactylus frenatus and H. mabouia was observed in Ecuador24 and Turks and Caicos Island respectively.33 Occasionally, individuals consume figs,34 plant material, and lizard skin. The second might be interpreted as a hydration mechanism or accidental ingestion, while the third is considered a diet supplement.12 Anolis sagrei is parasitized by roundworms (Nematoda), flatworms (Trematoda), spiny-head worms (Acanthocephala), tongue worms (Pentastomida),35 the malaria parasite Plasmodium floridense,36 and ticks.37

Brown Anoles have different defense mechanisms against potential predators. In the presence of a threat, individuals may stay motionless, relying on their camouflage, although sometimes they move to the opposite side of their perch away from the predator.15 They can also jump to the ground and swiftly run away.6 When grabbed by a predator, Brown Anoles can shed the tail, which remains wiggling on the ground while the lizard escapes.9 After the introduction of a terrestrial predator in an area inhabited by Anolis sagrei, individuals shift from lower to higher perches and reduce their exploratory behavior.3840 By experimentally removing a lizard predator, A. sagrei gradually started moving to the ground, previously occupied by the predator.15 Populations colonizing areas with fewer competitors tend to evolve larger body size.41 Individuals are preyed upon by cats,42 snakes,29 lizards, birds (including hawks, crows, and warblers),43 frogs,13 and spiders.44

Males and females of Anolis sagrei become sexually mature when they reach a snout vent length of 3.9 and 3.4 cm, respectively.45 Females lay a single-egg clutch at one- or two-weeks intervals.46,47 They seem to prefer nesting sites previously used by other females.48 Nesting sites include fallen palm leaves, underneath logs, rocks, and pieces of wood.48,49 Egg position and selection of a suitable nest site can influence egg development and offspring phenotype.5052 Hatchling success was not affected after eggs were immersed in saltwater for up to 6 hours, which suggests high tolerance for tropical storms and hurricanes.53 The reproductive cycle of A. sagrei has not been studied in Ecuador, but in other tropical ecosystems it seems to be correlated with the rainy season and day length.45,46,54 In lower latitudes, the most active reproductive period for A. sagrei coincides with the rainy season.1,55,56 Interspecific mating has been reported between this species and other introduced anoles in Florida.57 Likewise, mating between the native A. carolinensis and A. sagrei has also been reported.58

Anolis sagrei is considered a successful colonizer. It is an invasive species in more than 15 countries. Pet trade, transport in ornamental vegetation, recreational vehicles, and boats seem to have facilitated the dispersal of this species.8,18,59 The success at adapting to novel environments might be due to the species’ generalist habits, adaptability to urban ecosystems, high population densities, and ability to adjust the reproductive habits to environmental conditions.60

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Conservation: Least Concern Believed to be safe from extinction given current circumstances..61 Anolis sagrei is listed in this category because it occurs in extremely high densities and it is a successful colonizer of new environments. This species has affected Floridian native A. carolinensis by reducing their populations,62 restricting their habitat use,63,64 and preying on their hatchlings.31 Likewise, there is an asymmetrical preference of adult A. sagrei for consuming native A. conspersus in Grand Cayman Island.31 Additionally, A. sagrei can exert a predatory regulator role on arthropod communities. For example, the introduction of this species altered an ant community structure in Taiwan65 and regulated orb-weaver spider density in the Bahamian islands.38 Although the impact of Brown Anoles on native Ecuadorian anoles has not yet been reported, the ecological traits of this species suggest a potential threat to lizard and arthropod communities. Total extirpation of the species is difficult due to the lizard’s agility and small size.8 Since eradication might be impossible once A. sagrei is dispersing and establishing over a large area, it is recommended to take drastic measures such as quarantining cargo material coming from places where the species occurs.66 Additionally, invasive species management should be accompanied by a careful and constant monitoring of the community structure. Since eradication of an invasive species sometimes results in the increased abundance of an invasive predator,15 interactions between invasive species should be studied as well.

Distribution: Anolis sagrei is native to Cuba, the Bahamas, two of the Cayman Islands, and the Caribbean Mexican coast.7 This species has established introduced populations in the Southeastern United States (Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas),59,6769 in several Caribbean islands (including Anguilla, Grand Cayman, Grenada, Jamaica, and Turks and Caicos),17,70,71 Pacific islands (Hawaii and Taiwan),18,72 Southeast Asia (Singapore),8 Central America (Belize, Pacific region of Mexico, and Panama),7375 and South America (Brazil and Ecuador).4,76 In Ecuador, A. sagrei has been recorded only in Guayas province at elevations between 0 and 234 m (Fig. 2).

Distribution of Anolis sagrei in Ecuador

Figure 2: Distribution of Anolis sagrei in Ecuador. See Appendix 1 for a complete list of the presence localities included in the map.

Etymology: The generic name Anolis is thought to have originated from Cariban languages, specifically from the word anoli, which is the name Arawak peoples may have used to refer to this group of lizards.77 The specific epithet sagrei honors Ramón de Sagra, a famous Spanish botanist.78

See it in the wild: In Ecuador, Brown Anoles can be located with almost complete certainty within city gardens such as Parque Histórico de Guayaquil, Parque Lineal Samanes, and Malecón 2000. Lizards can be seen perching on fences, lighting posts, and trees during the daytime.

Special thanks to Katarzyna Zaremba for symbolically adopting the Brown Anole and helping bring the Reptiles of Ecuador book project to life.

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Author: Camila A. Rodríguez-BarbosaaAffiliation: Independent scholar, Bogotá, Colombia.

Editor: Alejandro ArteagabAffiliation: Tropical Herping (TH), Quito, Ecuador.

Photographer: Jose VieirabAffiliation: Tropical Herping (TH), Quito, Ecuador.,cAffiliation: ExSitu, Quito, Ecuador.

How to cite? Rodríguez-Barbosa CA (2021) Brown Anole (Anolis sagrei). In: Arteaga A, Bustamante L, Vieira J (Eds) Reptiles of Ecuador: Life in the middle of the world. Available from: DOI: 10.47051/MVMG9382

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Appendix 1: Locality data used to create the distribution map of Anolis sagrei in Ecuador (Fig. 2). Go to the section on symbols and abbreviations for a list of acronyms used.

EcuadorGuayasAv. Río EsmeraldasNarváez et al. 2020
EcuadorGuayasCalle 9iNaturalist
EcuadorGuayasCeibos NorteiNaturalist
EcuadorGuayasEl AledañoiNaturalist
EcuadorGuayasEl Tigre, 4 km NE ofiNaturalist
EcuadorGuayasIsla CelesteEduardo Zavala, pers. comm.
EcuadorGuayasJardines PlazaiNaturalist
EcuadorGuayasLa AtarazanaiNaturalist
EcuadorGuayasLa GarzotaiNaturalist
EcuadorGuayasLaguna ClubiNaturalist
EcuadorGuayasLas RiverasiNaturalist
EcuadorGuayasLiceo PanamericanoThis work
EcuadorGuayasMalecón 2000Narváez et al. 2020
EcuadorGuayasMocolí IslandNarváez et al. 2020
EcuadorGuayasMucho LoteEduardo Zavala, pers. comm.
EcuadorGuayasParque Histórico de GuayaquilAmador et al. 2017
EcuadorGuayasParque lineal SamanesAmador et al. 2017
EcuadorGuayasUrbanización CastillaiNaturalist
EcuadorGuayasUrbanización MaticesiNaturalist
EcuadorGuayasUrbanización Palmar del RíoNarváez et al. 2020
EcuadorGuayasUrdesaNarváez et al. 2020
EcuadorGuayasVillas del BosqueiNaturalist