04 November 2010

Knight anoles and science writing

What Are Knight Anoles?

By: Kristen Martinet
December 15, 2008
Liberty Middle School
Science/ Period 2

Knight anoles are very interesting lizards. They are the largest anoles in the world and have very distinct features such as their speckled backs and striped sides. These reptiles are an invasive species in Florida and originate from Cuba. People like to keep knight anoles as pets, but then release them into the wild without knowing the consequences for the lizard. This makes them more abundant in urban areas. They eat insects and other lizards in the wild and in captivity. When fighting off a predator, the lizard bluffs to scare it away. While fighting with other males, the anole bobs its head up and down and extends the dewlap to look tough.  In the summer, knight anoles breed to create at least eight new baby knight anoles in five-seven weeks.     Knight anoles (anolis equestris) are a very interesting species of lizard that are also called the Cuban anole. This reptile is part of the order squamata, the sub-order iguanidae, and the family polychroidae. The knight anole is part of the genus anolis, which has about 250 species (Crowther, 1999). A researcher from Centralpets.com stated that the common name “knight” is derived from the Latin species name “equestris” which is derived from “equester,” a Latin word for knight. The other common name, Cuban anole, is probably used because its first home is in Cuba.

    This lizard is a very recognizable species. It is the largest anole in the world, so if any researcher was walking around in its territory, he/she would definitely notice. The knight anole is known as a “crown giant” because if its crested head. This also explains why it is called the “knight anole”-- because of the “helmet” on its head! This head is usually 7 inches (18 centimeters) long. That is a large percentage of its body! The whole body of a knight anole is 13-19.375 inches (33-49.2 centimeters) long. Its maximum snout-vent length is 188 millimeters of it massive head. (Wilson, 1997) Its eye is like any other anole’s eye, with a black and round pupil. The anole’s eye has a black spot around it, much like one on a domesticated dog. In its mouth, a knight anole houses an unusually bright orange tongue and extremely sharp teeth. I think that the tongue is used to scare off predators because of its bright color. Male anoles have an enormous pink throat fan below the lower jaw. Females do not have a throat fan. Going down from the head is a nape that has a small crest on it, which looks like a wrinkle on the knight anole’s skin. The body has yellow and/or white highlights on it between the body scales that look like plates of armor. The short legs make it relatively slow. Its feet have special pads that can cling to some surfaces, including trunks of trees.
They are mostly lime green with black, orange, and sometimes white speckles on the back. The speckles resemble sprinkled pepper on a lime. Yellow streaks are also seen on their sides. Their scales look a bit wrinkly, making any knight anole look like an old warrior. The skin can change color. Some people mistake the knight anole for a chameleon because of this, which makes me a bit annoyed. I think that many scientists seem to argue about the true maximum length of this lizard because they all know that there is always something bigger and better out in the environment.
    Knight anoles live in Florida and Cuba. They were introduced to Florida accidentally, probably by ship or airplane. Animals that come from one country to another are called invasive species. These lizards live all over Cuba where there is a tropical climate and shady trees. I like to imagine the knight anoles in their homeland, climbing up large and leafy trees to find shade so they can extend their dewlap in pleasure. In Florida, this reptile is becoming an established species because of its ability to adapt to new environments easily. The knight anole’s ability to adapt makes it able to colonize in natural areas as well as urban ones (Wilson, 1997). So far, the knight anole has occupied four of Florida’s counties, including Broward and Dade and somewhat into the Keys. It is also slowly fanning out into other southern states such as Georgia and Alabama. The knight anole has been found commonly in the shade trees along streets in urban areas such as Miami. Sadly, the knight anoles don’t usually survive Florida winters because the sudden drop of temperature is too much for their bodies. It is just like when you take a hot pot and put it into iced water; it shatters. Anoles live for 15 to 16 years, which is pretty long for a lizard (Green anoles live for at most five years). Many people like to keep these lizards as pets because of their astonishing appearance. Some people get mad at their anoles for biting them or getting too big and toss them back out into the wild without knowing what might happen to them. If somebody buys a knight anole as a baby, the lizard might not know how to act in the wild once released. In these cases, the knight anoles are usually considered an easy meal for snakes because of their lack of survival skills. Fewer natural predators means that the knight anole population is larger in housing developments.
    Their diet consists of insects and other smaller anoles, such as the brown anole, green anole, bark anole, or any other small knight anoles that dare come in a mightier one’s way. The knight anole also eats any insect (that is not poisonous) that gets in its way, such as butterflies, beetles, and ants. When a knight anole spots a juicy beetle, it waits in silence and turns its color to match brown bark or green leaves/grass so the prey doesn’t notice. The lizard creeps closer very slowly and snatches the beetle up in no time at all! It munches on the prey with its razor-like teeth. Knight anoles don’t usually fight over food because there are plenty pesky bugs in Cuba and Florida. In captivity, they are known for eating pinky mice.
    Knight anoles are fierce warriors, just like their name, when they meet a predator or a rival male. When the lizard sees its only predator, a snake, it turns sideways, extends the dewlap, raises the back crest, and gapes menacingly at it. This isn’t all a bluff. If the snake comes any closer, the anole will hiss or bite. If the snake moves closer to the anole, the lizard runs away. Sometimes, a snake might get the anole’s tail within its grasp. The lizard’s tail then falls off. Then a new tail will grow back, though it is replaced with cartilage, not bone, so the new tail isn’t as tough as the old one.
Fighting with other males is much different than fighting predators in the knight anole kingdom. Lizards might fight over territory or a mate, but they always fight the same way. Both males extend the dewlap and retract it many times while bobbing their heads stiffly up and down. I think that this behavior looks like the lizard is doing push-ups to scare away others. This is all about bluffing to show who is mightier. Sometimes, the fights turn into battles where the lizards nip at each other until one goes away. The winner gets to keep the territory, or the mate. Sometimes, people call the knight anole “the new Godzilla” because of its fearsome look when defending territory or mates.
    The breeding season for knight anoles is in the summer, or the spring if the temperature is right. Sometimes, the knight anole mistakes males for females when breeding because the reptiles can’t tell the difference between the two. This comical event doesn’t lead to anything serious, just a possible fight for territory. When two knight anoles breed, the female produces up to four clutches of one to two eggs. The female lays them in a depression in the ground and then covers the leathery eggs and leaves them alone. After five to seven weeks, little one to two inch lizards emerge from their eggs to greet the world. The hatchlings are a bright green with white bars on their sides and are already fully independent. Many predators such as birds, other lizards, and small mammals eat these newborn lizards because they haven’t learned much about survival yet. The hatchlings that survive the early days of their life change drastically as they grow from 2 inches to the massive 19-inch length of an adult knight anole.
    The knight anole is a truly magnificent creature that awes me. Its size, name, and abilities make it very unique. I think that it is the most fearsome and ancient looking reptile in the anole kingdom. I also think that there are many more things to learn about this lizard, such as how long the largest one is and how they came to America. What still makes me gawk at this lizard is that fact that it has come from a completely different country and has made its home in Florida along with all of the other amazing reptiles here. I wonder if the knight anole will crossbreed with another lizard species to make another extraordinary new type of lizard. The possibilities are endless and there is still much more research to do on this lime green beauty.


Back to your host:
The above was written by my niece.  To my eyes, this is wonderful science writing and I'd like to see more of it, in more venues.  Certainly I encourage such lively, passionate writing.  If a teacher is reading, take this for a model, not the vapid soulless passive 'it has been observed that lizards are green' writing that is inflicted on scientists by most journals.


jg said...

My compliments to Kristen on some excellent writing. Careless me, I skipped the by-line and didn't realize that I was reading the work of a middle school student. I was thinking how diverse and passionate you (Bob) is on this subject. I didn't suspect that the author wasn't you till the part that said

"Some people mistake the knight anole for a chameleon because of this, which makes me a bit annoyed."

Your being annoyed with that just didn't sound like you, and it was then I looked back at the by-line.

I hope my error is a compliment to both of you.


Robert Grumbine said...

Thanks jg. You're right, the things I get annoyed about are different. I'm liable to be an offender on the anole/chameleon identification :-)

Anna Haynes said...

Here's a nice photo -

And yes - excellent writing.

edm said...

Kristen, thanks for sharing your article. It reminds teachers that we can and should encourage our students to research topics of interest to them. I hope you'll continue sharing your research with us, whether you remain fascinated by lizards or delve into other areas. The world needs people who are passionate about whatever branch of science they pursue, and who communicate that to others. Well done.

Robert Grumbine said...

anna: thanks for the photo. cute little things. or not so little.