Anole lizards in the eye of the storm
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.