by Bob Thomas
You really know spring has sprung when you hear these words . . .“Hey mister, show me your blanket!”. . . or, “ Lizard, lizard, show me your gizzard!”
These are familiar chants to many New Orleans schoolchildren. They are referring to a characteristic of one of our most familiar local denizens, the Green Anole (Anolis carolinensis), frequently called the American Chameleon because it can change color from green to brown. Unique to males, the “blanket” is actually called a dewlap, or throat fan.
Green Anoles use their pink dewlaps for two purposes. One is for breeding, displaying their intent to females. The second purpose is more commonly seen and functions in establishing territory among adult males. By displaying his dewlap, the lizard can tell other males that they have entered his home range. The intruding male then has two options. He may simply leave, or he may establish his dominance and displace the original proprietor.
Males rarely give females a territorial display, allowing them to enter freely. Interestingly, you may notice that anoles will also “throw down their colors” to gardeners, dogs, and other passersby.
The dewlap is erected by the movement of the hyoid apparatus, a set of bones derived from the gill support of fish and functioning in tongue support for most land vertebrates, including humans.
The next time you see an anole showing his dewlap, notice that he is also bobbing up and down. This is another aspect of their non-verbal communication techniques. There are many species of anoles in the New World, and each has a differently patterned dewlap and a different bobbing sequence, thus allowing them to remain as separate breeding populations in a seemingly overlapping habitat.
New Orleans has a newly arrived anole species, the Brown Anole (Anolis sagrei). It is brown, cannot change colors, and has a red dewlap.
Also published in Nature Profile, The Times Picayune, July 21, 1982.