Leapin’ Lizards

I’m back in Wisconsin now, but I have a couple more Arizona posts to share with you. We had the opportunity to observe some interesting lizard behavior in Usery Mountain Regional Park in the Phoenix area when this little guy started running down the trail ahead of us, curling up its tail to display the black and white stripes on its underside.

023 027 (1024x768)This is a zebra-tailed lizard (Callisaurus draconoides), and the tail thing is a display to warn off predators.

We also did some sightseeing in the southeastern part of the state and found this group of lizards resting between some rocks in Madera Canyon.

007 (768x1024)This, I think, is Clark’s spiny lizard, Sceloporus clarkii. (If you know better please correct me in the comments.) I love the blue highlights, which so many male lizards have.

Look, a Lizard!

I was too busy with work over the weekend to get out in the woods here much, but I have a few photos left from Arizona for you. Lizard!

021 (1024x766)

Spotted this guy at the Desert Botanical Garden. (Yes, it is a male, judging by the hint of blue on his throat.) I’m pretty hopeless at lizard ID; even after consulting this great Lizards of Arizona site the best I’ve got is “maybe something in the genus Sceloporus?”, the problem being that he doesn’t look spiny enough to be a desert spiny lizard and most of the other likely suspects aren’t found in Maricopa County. Let me know in the comments if you can identify him. Regardless, I usually I can’t get close enough to lizards to get a decent photo, so he made me happy.

022 (1024x766)No lizards here in northern Wisconsin. And the snakes and turtles are asleep under the snow and ice.

UPDATE: Ah-ha! Neil of microecos provided the necessary clue to this lizard’s identity in the comments – what I had taken for just a shadow in the lizard’s “armpit” in the first photo is actually an important diagnostic marking. This guy is a Common Side-blotched Lizard, Una stansburiana.

Lizards in Europe

Hello! Rebecca here. I’m backpacking in the Porcupine Mountains right now, but before I left I scheduled some awesome guest posts for you. The first one is from one of my best friends, Scarlett Rebman. When we were in eighth grade we wrote a bad fantasy novel together, and it boggles the mind a bit that we’re now both legit published writers.

I am not a biologist. Nor am I an environmental educator or much of a naturalist. I am a curious person who finds being in nature rewarding. Pausing for a few minutes to look at a banana slug in Oregon or pulling off the side of the road to rescue a turtle in Michigan are moments that give me perspective. All the stresses of living in a fast-paced, technology driven, globalized world melt away when I meet an amazing creature in nature.

For the 2011-2012 school year, my husband and I had the opportunity to live and teach English in Hungary. We traveled during every school holiday. I am a landmark and museum junkie, yet one of my favorite parts of traveling was taking nature hikes and seeing interesting animals. To my surprise, we had encounters with lizards in at least three countries: Hungary, neighboring Slovakia, and exotic Sicily (which, yes, belongs to Italy, but often seems like a different country altogether). Only a few agreed to pose for pictures.

I came across this little lizard in October 2011 at Devín Castle, a castle outside of Bratislava, Slovakia. Its ruins sits perched on a hill overlooking the Danube.

Aren’t you jealous that it gets to call the castle home?

We went hiking at the Reserva Naturale della Zingaro in Sicily in early April 2012. The Zingaro is a stunning nature reserve along the northern coast of the island. We were excited the first few times we caught a glimpse of a lizard. When we realized that they were sunning themselves on almost every rock, we kept snapping pictures anyways. I believe they are Sicilian wall lizards.

In June 2012, my ninth grade students and I were rewarded for climbing a steep hill in northern Hungary by encountering this lizard with a stunning blue face:

He is (I think) a male European Green Lizard (Lacerta viridis). He was more impressive than the pile of rubble at the top of the hill. What used to be a bustling castle had been destroyed by man, reclaimed by nature, and now the greatest attraction is the wildlife.

When most people think of Europe, they picture the Eiffel Tower, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, or the Coliseum. I am thrilled that I got to see all of those places, but my lizard encounters will stand out just as much in my travel memories.

Back in the States after her school year in Hungary, Scarlett Rebman is currently a canvasser for an environmental nonprofit organization. When she isn’t trying to save the world from the evils of hydrofracking, she is usually hanging out with her husband, playing with her cat, reading, cooking, or taking a walk. People tell her she thinks too much. You can read more about her year in Europe at Hungary for Adventure, or for current posts, visit her new blog at Scribbling Scarlett.

Long-Nosed Leopard Lizard

One of the interesting creatures we saw at Arches National Park was this large lizard, who crawled out from under a rock as we passed, apparently wanting to enjoy the morning sun.

It’s a long-nosed leopard lizard (try saying that five times fast), or Gambelia wislizenii. While we watched, it repeatedly crawled back under its rock only to reemerge a moment later, apparently unable to decide whether we were really a threat. When we finally continued along the trail, we were surprised to immediately find two more!

Apparently the red markings along the sides of these first two mean that they are gravid females. These diurnal lizards eat other, smaller lizards as well as insects and small rodents. Though there’s nothing in the photo to give a sense of scale, the ones we saw were easily a foot long.

Above, a male (no red bars) basks on a rock. These guys have a close cousin, the blunt-nosed leopard lizard, that is a federally endangered species.

More to come…

Gecko!

A pair of Mediterranean House Geckos (Hemidactylus turcicus) has taken up residence on my parents’ back patio here in southern Arizona, coming out at night to climb the walls in search of insects.

Between the poor lighting and the fact that the little buggers scurry quickly away when you get too close, this is the best photo I was able to get, but they’re cute little things. Geckos have a lot of interesting characteristics that make them stand out from other lizards. The specialized toe pads that let them walk up walls and even across ceilings (even glass ones!) with ease are hypothesized to rely on the Van der Waals force, which is just crazy. Some (including this species) produce little chirping noises, something most lizards are unable to do.

Even though these aren’t native to North America, I’ve never heard of them becoming invasive and causing any significant problems for native lizards – as their name suggests, I think they tend to stick close to buildings. Like the Peach-faced Lovebirds, another non-native species found in my parents’ neighborhood, I like them too much to really wish them ill.