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THE ANOLIS LIZARD is a timid little rascal known to hide behind picture frames and cavort with a spinning LP record. The male will occasionally show off his expanding dewlap. If you’ve watched Death in Paradise, you’ve seen Harry, the inspector’s beach house pal.
Today and tomorrow in Parts 1 and 2, we learn about anolis lizards and the people who study them. One researcher is described in a recent Science magazine as “Lizard Man.” I knew another, Bill MacLean, when we both taught at the College of the Virgin Islands on St. Thomas.
Island-Dwelling Lizards Evolve in Parallel. In Science, July 31, 2020, Elizabeth Pennisi reports on “Meet Lizard Man, a Reptile-loving Biologist Tackling Some of the Biggest Questions in Evolution.” Jonathan Losos has been studying lizards for years, the Caribbean islands being his giant test tubes.
Convergent Evolution. Some anoles reside in the canopies of trees; others, on twigs lower to the ground. Yet others prefer grass/bush or tree trunks on the ground.
The amazing thing, as discovered by Jonathan Losos, is that “Lizards living in similar habitats on different islands independently evolved similar appearance and behavior, in what scientists call convergent evolution.”
Limb Length. Ground dwellers have longer legs, all the better to outrun predators. With higher (and less stable) residences, other lizards have developed shorter limbs.
Toe Pads. Lizards living in tree canopies have larger toepads that help them to hang on, sometimes for dear life in windy conditions. “Some anoles” Pennisi writes, “can climb vertically and even hang upside down.”
Dewlap Color. Male anoles use their expanding dewlap to attract females and ward off rivals. The color of dewlap, from light to dark, is inversely proportional to habitat brightness, all the better for showing off this display.
Another Lizard Man, Bill MacLean. Bill MacLean was a friend and colleague at the College of the Virgin Islands on St. Thomas. He and I both joined the CVI staff in 1969.
As noted in a Princeton Alumni Weekly Memorial, “Bill was born in Bainbridge, Maryland, attended L’Ecole Française in Barcelona, and entered Princeton, in 1961, where he met his future wife, Ellen Gillespie. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago in evolutionary biology.”
The Princeton Alumni Weekly continued, “In 1969, Bill became assistant professor at what is now the Univ. of the Virgin Islands, rising to the position of professor and chairman of the Dept. of Science and Mathematics, and ultimately to V.P. for Academic Affairs.”
Along with many academic papers, Bill wrote three books, Reptiles and Amphibians of the Virgin Islands, 1982; Modern Marlinspike Seamanship: Knots, Splices, Cordage, Terminals and Rigging, 1982; and Historic Buildings of St. Thomas and St. John, co-authored with Frederick Gjessing, 1987.
Another of his works was co-authored by a mathematician named Simanaitis. We’ll look into that tomorrow. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2020