A Breath of (Semi-)Fresh Air: Scientists Find Anoles That Breathe Underwater

Leave it to the lizards. Not only do some of them “walk” on water (the “Jesus Christ” lizard, or basilisk, has that amazing capability)—but others can take air down with them when they dive underneath the surface of water!

It seems that some anoles will dip into the water to escape predators, sometimes hanging out down below for as long as 18 minutes. This behavior from air-breathing (i.e. non-amphibious) lizards has for some time been a head-scratcher for biologists. An in-depth examination of the submerged anoles by dedicated researchers, however, soon produced this fascinating clue: they form air bubbles on their snouts while underwater. It is surmised that these lizards are then able to use the air pocket to “rebreathe” the air, not unlike the way a human scuba diver would. Some river bugs and spiders also show this ability. But in larger animals with greater metabolic rates such as lizards, this behavior was a surprise to researchers. However, when they measured the oxygen levels in the air bubbles, they noticed it dropped as time went on. The anoles really seem to be using these pockets to breathe underwater.

The article goes on to posit how the anoles (usually identified by their vibrant-colored dewlaps) might be able to accomplish this feat below the waves. And it includes short videos of the lizards using their own personal scuba equipment!