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February 3, 2011 / Dave Gorham

Part II: Can Lizards and Squirrels Predict an Early Spring?

Yesterday, we talked about how Punxsutawney Phil was an amateur weather forecaster and how hummingbirds, robins and toads could do a better job than him. So today, from birds to lizards, the Green Anole is another species whose reappearance may indicate spring is near. They’re primarily found in the southeastern U.S. and some Caribbean islands. These lizards typically lay their eggs throughout the spring/summer months and are commonly seen in bushes, trees and around homes or other buildings. During warm weather they’re pretty active during the day and you’ll see them running around. When it’s cool they typically hide under tree bark, shingles, or in rotten logs. The anole can change colors based on the temperature outside, stress levels and various other environmental and behavior factors. I guess you could say they are like a mood ring, but a reptile version!

Did you know some people keep Green Anoles as pets? They can live in captivity up to 7 years. Image: Animal Diversity Web

On a side note, the green anole’s local territory has been threatened in the last 9 or 10 years by the much more aggressive and territorial anole sagreis. This critter is a native of Cuba, the Bahamas and nearby islands that debuted around these parts early last decade, probably as a stowaway via the Port of Houston, and whose local population exploded, much to the chagrin of the green anole.  But with the last few fairly robust winter seasons, the population of the green anole has resurged and is now stabilizing.  Turns out that the green lads may be more timid on the battlefield but they’re actually much better suited for surviving cold weather than are their Cuban counterparts.

This is a photo of an Anole sagrei. Image: Smithsonian Marine Station at Fort Pierce

Lastly, we have the HSI for determining the real strength of a tropical storm but what about the FSI relevant to yet another animal’s proclivity for indicating how cold an upcoming winter season might be?  The FSI – or Furry Squirrel Index – is a time-honored way of getting at least a good idea of how chilly the overall season might turn out.  As you can see from the photo below which was shot in October in Houston the squirrels agreed with ImpactWeather’s long-term forecast at the time that it would be a relatively mild winter, at least in the Southwest U.S. And that’s been exactly the case so far – at least until THIS week!

Photo: Fred Rogers, ImpactWeather

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