Research Reveals Forest Lizards Are Able to Survive City Life

In a new study, researchers have learned that some lizards abandon the forests for more populated urban areas and they can thrive in city life. Scientists focused the study on the Puerto Rican crested anole, a brown lizard with a bright orange throat fan. The reptile has unique scales to grasp onto smooth surfaces and it has larger limbs to run far distances.

“We are watching evolution as it’s unfolding,” Kristin Winchell, a biology professor at NYU and main author of the study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, said. As urbanization becomes more prominent internationally, it becomes crucial to develop a greater understanding of how organisms adapt to changing environments. The findings can help people design cities in a manner that supports all species.

The study captured 96 Anolis cristatellus lizards with a comparison between the genetic makeup of forest dwellers to those living in the city. The areas of focus were Puerto Rico’s capital, San Juan, the northern city of Arecibo and the western city of Mayaguez. Scientists found that 33 genes within the lizard genome were connected with urbanization.

Winchell said: “If urban populations are evolving with parallel physical and genomic changes, we may even be able to predict how populations will respond to urbanization just by looking at genetic markers.”

The study was done exclusively on adult male lizards so it remains uncertain whether the findings will translate over to female lizards as well. We may see more lizards clinging to people’s houses than branches.