Episode 132 – Water Anole: Squamata in the Wata

“Thank you to Casy for our new theme song. Hear more of Casy’s music by searching Casy Michelle on Youtube. Today we’re talking about a familiar looking lizard with an unfamiliar amazing ability!”

From the time of Alexander the Great, air breathers have been fascinated by the world beneath the waves. And humans aren’t the only ones to figure out how to hang out underwater. The water anole uses a special technique to stay hidden when predators come sniffing that scientists still haven’t entirely figured out yet. But being elusive, mysterious, and resourceful is the name of the survival game here in Life, Death, and Taxonomy.


Anoles come in a variety of colors and they can also change color based on mood, activity, and light levels, especially stress.

Water anoles have a brown and light modled stripe pattern that helps them blend in with lichen that grows in their moist environments. 

Male anoles also have a dewlap. Cartilage skin flaps that flare out or lay flat against their throat. Dewlap often come in bright colors that contrast the color of their bodies. Green anoles have pink dewlap. Water anoles can have orange and purple dewlap.

Measure Up

Welcome to the beloved Measure Up segment. The official listener’s favorite part of the show! The part of the show when we present the animal’s size and dimension in relatable terms through a quiz that’s fun for the whole family. It’s also the part of the show that’s introduced by you when you send in audio of yourself saying, singing, or chittering the words measure up into ldtaxonomy at gmail dot com. We do have a new measure up intro this week from Elizabeth.

Male Length

  • 4 and 8 cm (1.5–3 in)
  • Some species reach up to 7 inches.
  • Let’s call it 3 inches.
  • How many anoles go into the height of Costa Rica’s largest volcano, the Irazu Volcano.
  • Hint: The volcano’s largest active crater is 900 feet (275 m) deep. There’s also a lake in one of these craters that’s so rich in minerals it can change colors from green to red.
  • 42,900 anoles. The volcano is 11,260 ft (3,432 m) high.

Knight Anole Weight

  • 137 g (5 oz) in weight
  • How many knight anoles go into the weight of the record number of cups of milk served by Comercializadora Lala Costa Rica S.A in one hour. 
  • Hint: Grupo Lala is a dairy company that has been around for 65 years. The record for milk cups served was achieved in January of 2019 and each glass had to contain at least 170 ml of milk, which is 0.7 cups.
  • 7,353 anoles. 2,298 lbs (1042.3 kilograms) of milk.

Fast Facts

Dewlaps are used to signal several things for these lizards. They can signal to potential mates, deter predators, or warn territorial rivals.

They may also help them tell different species apart. Several species look very much alike except their dewlap color. 

Anoles are territorial. Besides using their dewlaps, they may also bob their heads or do push-ups to warn rivals. 

If that doesn’t work they may fight it out biting and vocalizing. If an anole is removed from their territory, they’ll find their way back and we aren’t sure how they do that.

Anoles are opportunistic eaters and will eat pretty much anything that will fit in their mouths. Most prefer small invertebrates like insects and spiders but some species can eat small mice and birds.

Some will drink nectar or fruit. If you put out a hummingbird feeder in lizard territory, you may attract anoles to it. Water anoles prefer insect nymphs that live in the water.

Anoles hunt prey by sight and prefer moving prey. They look toothless but they have very small pointed teeth that allow them to grab onto prey. Only Cuban false chameleons have blunt molars because they specialized in snails.

Everything including spiders, centipedes, grasshoppers, snakes, frogs, birds, monkeys, and mammals eat anoles. Water anoles avoid predators by dropping into water and hiding in rock crevasses until the threat is gone. 

Major Fact: Scuba Lizard

Lizards tend to be pretty low on the food chain. Unless you’re an iguana, monitor lizard, Gila monster, or Komodo dragon, you’re probably lunch for a wide variety of predators.

Birds, snakes, frogs, small mammals, and even bigger lizards can make a meal out of the smaller specimens.

Most lizards have two responses when they encounter a potential threat: they either run for cover or they freeze in place. Since most predators can see something that’s moving better than they can see something that’s standing completely still, freezing is a good tactic.

However, if the predator relies on a sense other than sight, the lizard is in trouble.

So running is a good option too, but the predator can often just follow the lizard into the bush or rolled-up garden hose he picked for cover.

So what’s the safest option? Going swimming!

The water anole usually darts for the nearest body of water when surprised or threatened, which really isn’t uncommon in lizards, especially iguanas.

What is uncommon is that they can stay underwater for up to 16 minutes!

How do they do this? They take a page out of our friend the Diving Bell Spider’s book and bring a good bubble of air with them when they dive.

The anole’s head is a very specific shape that allows for the bubble to encase their head and neck. It sits as a thin layer that you wouldn’t even notice.

What you would notice is that, when the anole reaches the end of its exhaling, the bubble spikes up from the top of its head like a unicorn or a dilophosaurus – the dino that killed Nedry in Jurassic Park.

The whole exchange looks like one of those squish toys that randomly bulges out when you squeeze it hard enough. 

A biologist actually recently discovered this a few years ago, so they’re not exactly sure how it works.

They know that the lizard’s skin is extremely hydrophobic, meaning that it harbors and irrational and debilitating fear of water. Actually it means that it doesn’t absorb water and water droplets just roll right off, like on your car.

What they don’t know is how it gets new oxygen.

By exhaling into its face bubble, it has to be filling it with CO2, which it re-inhales. So how is it able to breathe? Imagine breathing into an empty Caprisun pouch, you won’t get very far. I guess it’s good for hyperventilation.

The running theory is that the bubble can transfer CO2 out into the water while transferring oxygen into the bubble from that same water.

They’ve also found aquatic insects in its stomach, so it may dive underwater to hunt as well as to avoid getting eaten.

Ending: So cling to your rock, keep a sharp eye out, and always bring some air with you whenever you go underwater like the Water Anole here in LDT.


Hey everyone, Carlos here. Just wrapping things up this week by asking you for a huge favor. If you haven’t already, we’d love it if you could subscribe to the show, leave a review on Apple Podcasts, and even send in a measure up intro. The great thing is, doing all three can take as little as 5 minutes and it helps us out a ton. Your support helps us reach more people in desperate need of interesting animal info, which is the best cure for a rampant disease I like to call Interesting Animal Ignorance. Help us help others! Thanks for listening and we’ll see you next week!