Culinary Adaptations

Culinary Adaptations

Learning to Live with Food

A Few of Our Favorite Foods
We anoles just love to eat insects. That’s why we’re called carnivores, or “flesh eaters,” even though insects don’t have a lot of flesh. We eat all sorts of insects, but we really like ants. In a shocking practice, scientists have been known to open up the stomachs of A. gundlachi anoles to study the food inside. They find that ants make up almost one-third of the number of items we eat. Since ants are small, they make up only about eight percent of the volume of food. We also like other insects. Tasty non-insect morsels include boiled rice, bits of vegetables, and (highly shameful to report) baby frogs and anoles. You can call us opportunistic eaters. We pounce on most anything that walks in front of us.

Strike up the Band to the Tune of "My Favorite Things!"
Crickets and spiders and long caterpillars.
Earthworms and termites and butterfly larvae.
Moths, worms, and cockroaches, mosquitoes too…

[When we drink, we lap at the water with our tongue, similar to a dog or cat.]

Dining Hours
What happens when thousands of lizards and thousands of frogs comb the same patch of forest in search of dinner? Do we fight mega battles? Do we wrestle each other to the death? Do we collide into each other in our race to reach an especially tasty worm or spider?

No, no, and no.

Why not?

Lizards catch food during the day, and frogs go out to hunt at night. Now isn’t that a very clever solution?

Dining Spots
Different types of lizards have their own favorite dining spots. A. gundlachi lizards are partial to the lower trunks of trees and the food found on the forest floor. We sit patiently in those areas, waiting for our food to pass by. Scientists have a name for this. They call us sit-and-wait, trunk-to-ground diners. Not very imaginative, if you ask me. Other species prefer to relax in the tops of the trees, 100 feet or higher, waiting for their food to fly by.

Dining Crisis
In the dry season, insects are not as numerous as they are when the forest is wet. For hungry anoles, this can be a crisis of great proportions. We can no longer sit back on our favorite trunk and wait for our dinner to pass by. We must work harder to find it. To make matters worse, the anoles that prefer the tops of the trees, such as our cousins, A. stratulus, can no longer find enough food up there. They descend to the ground. Competition becomes extremely keen. Fewer anoles are able to survive in the forest. It is a very sad time.

Now That’s a Lot of Lunch
Human scientists sit around a lot. They like to observe the boring details of an anole’s daily life. Sometimes they find something interesting. Look at this:

Scientists estimate that each A. gundlachi anole eats 25.4 prey (animal tidbits, mostly insects) in a day. They also estimate that around 2,000 A. gundlachi live in a hectare (about 2.471 acres) of forest. Multiply. This one type of anole on one bit of forest consumes around 50,800 prey in a day! There are three common anole species in El Yunque. They make a total of 25,000 lizards on that same hectare. Multiply again. All the anoles gobble up some 635,000 creatures everyday. Then we have the tree frogs, which are as common, and as hungry, as the anoles. As a result, more than a million insects die to fill the stomachs of anoles and tree frogs every day on land the size of a large backyard. No wonder insects are not a problem for humans in El Yunque!