Fieldwork in Southern Mexico

For the past several weeks I’ve been in southern Mexico. The first week I flew into Mexico City and met up with Norma Manriquez-Morán, a professor at the Autonomous University of Hidalgo, and her student Anahí, as well as two students from Adrián Nieto’s lab at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), Daniel and Max. We sampled a bunch of sites on the southern edge of the Mexican Plateau in Aguascalientes, Jalisco, and Michoacán for whiptail lizards.

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Team whiptail in Jalisco

Our primary target was finding populations of Aspidoscelis gularis, as this represents the southern edge of their range, and many populations in this area exhibit interesting patterns of phenotypic variation. Fortunately, we were successful at finding whiptails at almost every site we visited, though densities of lizards in these higher elevation populations tend to be much lower than populations of species along the coast. In addition to finding a bunch of really cool lizards, we visited several ‘Pueblo Magicos’ (or ‘magic towns’, a designation given by the Mexican government typically to towns with cultural and/or natural significance), ate some amazing carnitas in Michoacán (the state in which they originated), and even got to do some hiking in some beautiful rainforest near Lago de Chapala, Jalisco (whiptails tend to be most abundant in open, lowland, disturbed habitats, so we don’t often get to spend a lot of time in pristine habitats on these trips).

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The Western Mexico whiptail (A. c. occidentalis)

After returning to Mexico City, I flew to Oaxaca to meet up with Levi Gray and Britt White for some fieldwork (two friends that study Anolis lizards in Mexico). We covered a lot of ground in Chiapas and were able to visit some pretty awesome places. Although our small rental car wasn’t able to traverse the road to El Ocote, a biosphere reserve in northwestern Chiapas, we were able to find two of my favorite anoles nearby on our first night in the field: Anolis alvarezdeltori and Anolis barkeri.

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A Mexican cave anole (A. alvarezdeltoroi)

Anolis alvarezdeltori is named after the famous Mexican herpetologist, and is particularly neat because it lives in caves, has long, spindly limbs, blue eyes, a striped tail, and a huge red dewlap. Anolis barkeri is semi-aquatic and also has a large red dewlap, we found several sleeping on plants next to a waterfall/stream.

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A stream in northern Chiapas, great habitat for semi-aquatic anoles

In addition to the anoles, we visited the spectacular Lagos de Montebello on the Mexico/Guatemala border and got to swim in the ocean when we were along the coast of Chiapas. Perhaps the most memorable experience, however, was getting to release a bunch of baby sea turtles into the ocean that had just hatched at a turtle conservation nursery we visited, holding a baby sea turtle in your hand is pretty amazing, as is watching them crawl into the ocean for the first time.

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Baby Ridley’s sea turtles headed for the ocean for the first time

During the last week I was also able to visit Norma’s lab for the first time in Pachuca, Hidalgo. There, I met several additional great herpetologists and they introduced me to some great local barbacoa, along with some insect delicacies: ant and moth larvae.

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Local cuisine in Pachuca, Hidalgo

Finally, I ended the trip spending a few days at UNAM working with specimens in the Herpetology Museum Collection.

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The beautiful Lagos de Montebello, in the picture on the right you can see how clear and blue the water in these lakes is

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