In my previous essay “Feeding the Wild Ones” I mentioned about making the snakes here very happy. This story tells of an inadvertent feeding. At our former residence I found that I could feed the Western fence lizards by hand. I started by throwing out live mealworms to them which quickly led to my feeding them by hand. The lizards will run over to you from several feet away to get a worm, great fun!
When we moved to our current residence I found another lizard that I could feed, the Southern alligator lizard. Where we live now is prime habitat for them and we have quite a few of them here. I started by tossing them worms and quickly segued into feeding them by hand. Alligator lizards are generally found in thick, low plants, all the better for hiding. They are not the quickest of lizards but do have a decent bolt from danger. There is also a lot of leaf duff from the oaks in their habitat.
I was concerned about feeding them in that habitat because of the possibility of losing the mealworms down in the leaves, as I often just toss a mealworm out to them. The new ones have to learn to feed by hand. I soon found out that they have excellent hearing. Any worm that got under the leaves was found and eaten! I have also fed one when it would be up in a jade tree. This happened on several occasions, see photo below.
Apparently they could hear the mealworms moving underneath the leaves! I lost absolutely no mealworms in the duff; they found them all! Another aspect of their natural history is that, like a lot of lizards, they can lose their tails.
This is a defensive mechanism to help them get away from predators. The predator gets the tail and the lizard gets to live…seems like a good deal to me. I believe they can also lose them in fights with other alligator lizards.
The following photos will show some lizards with full tails and some with regrown tails. They will also show some of the three color patterns that I have noticed of them. I call one of them tan, one grey-brown and the last red, which is my favorite.
Because the original tail is made of bone and the regrown tail is of cartilage, the regrown tail never returns to it’s former glory. There are also many blue-bellies, mostly males, that have stump tails. Another aspect of the alligator lizards natural history is that it gives live birth. Some locals call them snake lizards. I think that is because the alligator lizard puts its legs against the sides of it’s body when moving through dense brush and wiggles through just like a snake and it also sheds its skin in one piece, just like a snake. All our other lizards shed in patches of skin.
After a couple years of having fun feeding my new friends, the population of alligator lizards increased dramatically. One year, in early summer, I noticed a lot of small gopher and common king snakes. I’m thinking that’s pretty cool!
After about a month I noticed that I was not seeing any of my alligator lizards anymore. I started to realize what may have brought the snakes here, FOOD! King snakes eat other reptiles specifically. What’s a small gopher snake going to eat? Well, reptiles probably. Because I had raised the density of the alligator lizard population the snakes were here hunting!
They could smell/taste that there was a whole lot of food around here with their Jacobson’s organ (vomeronasal organ) located in their mouth, and they wanted some! They for sure had eaten some and maybe scared the others away, regardless, I never saw any where near the numbers of alligator lizards I had before the snakes showed up. I had inadvertently fed the snakes! Since the lizards had been eaten or dispersed I haven’t been feeding them as much and limited it to a few rather than every one that I see. As a result, I have not seen many snakes around now, at least not like I had that summer! I don’t know about the alligator lizards, but the snakes were dam happy for a while.
Your’s in Nature,