Anole lizards in the eye of the storm

BBC Wildlife Magazine - - Wild News -

Hur­ri­canes Irma and Maria were dev­as­tat­ing for the Caribbean, but pre­sented an op­por­tu­nity to study the ef­fects of ex­treme weather on the evo­lu­tion­ary process. When storms struck in 2017, bi­ol­o­gists led by Har­vard Univer­sity’s Colin Doni­hue had just com­pleted a sur­vey of anole lizards on Pine Cay and Wa­ter Cay is­lands north of the Caribbean. By re­peat­ing the study af­ter the de­struc­tion, they es­tab­lished how a select few sur­vived the 265kph winds.

“There were def­i­nitely fewer lizards,” says Doni­hue. “We had to work harder to catch our sam­ple.” The team won­dered whether sur­viv­ing an­i­mals had fea­tures that helped them cling onto trees. “The sticky toe pads on their fin­gers and toes, we thought maybe they would be larger,” says Doni­hue. In­deed they were. But the sur­vivors also sported longer than av­er­age fore­limbs and shorter hindlimbs com­pared to the pre-storm pop­u­la­tion. Wind-tun­nel ex­per­i­ments con­firmed that these char­ac­ter­is­tics keep anoles an­chored (long hindlimbs, for ex­am­ple, are un­help­ful, catch­ing the wind like a sail). With hur­ri­canes ex­pected to rise in in­ten­sity, anoles may need to get an even tighter grip on things.

FIND OUT MORE Na­ture: na­ture.com/ar­ti­cles/s41586-018-0352-3

Some anoles have larger sticky toe pads that help them hang on to leaves in the face of a hurricane.

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