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Au Naturel
King of the Anoles
Anolis carolinensis
Original photo by Steve Rainwater

When I got home from the grocery store today, I found a friend waiting for me. Strong and handsome, confident and green, reclined on the branch of the wax myrtle in front of the house, he rolled one eye up to look at me as I walked by with the groceries. The King of the Green Anoles, he has maintained his dominance against all challengers for three years now, but I was privileged to be an audience of one at the fight that won him his crown.

Green anoles are the small non-indigenous lizards found throughout Texas and much of the south. They are harmless little insectivores who naturalize easily wherever they are intentionally or accidentally transported, without upsetting the ecological balance. Anoles have relatively short lifespans, produce small clutches of eggs and provide food for some of the larger birds, like egrets and herons. Besides which, they turn green for reasons not entirely clear to herpetologists, and that's enough to make most people regard them as pleasant.

I was weeding the side garden one spring afternoon when I caught a flash of green motion out of the corner of my eye. Two male green anoles were perched on the corner trim of the house bobbing furiously and inflating their throat fans in an obvious territorial display. This was no professional wrestling match, scripted and phony, but a genuine prize fight for territorial ownership of our chemical-free garden with its dense bushes and deep ivy - a safe and desirable habitat for small reptiles.

One of them lunged at the other and they clamped their jaws together, shaking each other furiously like rubber dinosaurs in a Japanese monster movie. I was never able to tell which one had started the fight, but it ended when the loser ran off, leaving the winner with such a serious head wound that I doubted he would live.

So much for my future as a prognosticator. The Alpha Anole survived very nicely, and was so clearly marked by his scars that we were able to follow his exploits in our garden. He patrols his territory with great regularity - the west wall, and sunny half of the north and south walls. He spends his winters behind a piece of trim on the west side, but spends his summers in the wax myrtle, frequently sleeping there on warm summer evenings. He is so unafraid of us that if we block his path when he is on patrol, he will come within inches of us to bob and display his general annoyance at our behavior. He once dashed through the garage, stopping to bob every foot or so, as if to say "This, too, is my territory". And unlike his wild companions, he will eat a tasty cricket out of a jar - something none of our other reptile residents has ever been brave enough to do.

Anoles in the wild generally live two to three years, so this may be his last summer with us. One of his progeny will likely take over when he is gone. And yes, our chemical-free garden has a few weeds and bugs in it, but when the choice is between a perfect suburban lawn and the friendship of a green anole, the green anoles win every time.

Previous Au Naturel essays
Winter Visitors
A few thoughts on Columbine High
King of the Anoles
A Turtle's Fancy
Winter in Texas
Harbingers of Spring


Copyright © 1999-2003 Susan Chance-Rainwater