I realized that I had not informed you much of the reptile happenings in quite a while. That was because of all the other animal antics that are to be seen here daily, if you are observant enough. There are, however, some interesting stories to tell about the lizards and their interaction with all things in our little habitat here.
In a previous essay from 2016, “Rare Reptiles”, I wrote about my favorite local lizard, Slinker, who is a California whiptail.
Whiptails are very large lizards and very active during the day. They derived their name from how they use their tails in defense. When a predator sticks its nose close to the lizard, it whips around with its tail and smacks whoever is bothering it right in the nose and then runs off before the animal that’s bothering it recovers. They are very fast lizards. While the whiptail is a smooth scaled lizard over most of its body, the tail scales are somewhat keeled, coming to a point, and that makes the affect on the tender nose of whoever is bothering the lizard that much greater. They are also extremely bold lizards.
Slinker would jump up to take a worm from my hand, which is why I gave him the nickname “Leo the Leaping Lizard” (see essay “Rare Reptiles”). When Slinker showed up in the summer of 2017, he would crawl over my foot and even try to climb my leg! They are not good climbers and he was unable to get any grip on my skin, as I was wearing shorts due to the heat of summer.
I did try wearing some pants so that he could climb up my leg, however he still could not get enough purchase from the fabric to climb up on my leg. I decided to try a towel instead. Well, it worked! Slinker was in my lap! My only regret is the choice of towel that I used. I really should have searched for something better, oh well. Slinker was not the only California whiptail that we had roaming around in the summers. There were times that I would see two together. It was probably mating time, as one lizard would be following the other. Mostly they are solitary lizards.
I did not see Slinker after the Summer of 2017, however there were other whiptails available to take it’s place. One in particular was a smaller, younger whiptail based on size. As the lizard would wonder the yard in its quest for food, he found the dried mealworms that we put out for the birds. The lizard accomplished this with the help of it’s tongue by touching the ground. I believe the whiptails, and other lizards like the Southern alligator lizard, have a somewhat developed Jacobsen’s organ; they smell with their tongue.
Since this lizard was now within the range of my live mealworms, it was taking a worm from my hand in no time. This whiptail seems to be a little darker in the front of it’s body with less tan coloring.
There were a few other whiptails that came by from time to time. This only happened during the summer months. Being cold blooded lizards are only active when the weather is warm. While we might see a Western fence lizard during warm spells in the winter, albeit only briefly, we would not see the others. The whiptails and alligator lizards were mostly late spring through summer.
Because of the same sensory abilities of their tongues, Southern alligator lizards were the next to find the bird kibble, our name for the dried mealworms that we put out for the birds. I have smelled the dried mealworms myself and think they do have a protein type smell.
Alligator lizards can also lose part of their tails. Sometimes it is to get away from predators, sometimes it is in fights with other alligator lizards. The lizard above has had its trimmed a bit, for whatever reason. The original tail is made of bone. The regrowth is of cartilage and as a result does not grow out much.
Both of the alligator lizards above were also hand feeders which is why I could get in so close for a photo of them. The photo below shows an alligator lizard with a nice, full tail. They are large lizards, just about as big as a whiptail.
Alligator lizards are also decent climbers. In 2014 I wrote about an alligator lizard that I was feeding in a jade tree (see essay “Fattening the Lizards for the Snakes”). Well one of the alligator lizards that would feed on the bird food would climb up into a jade tree when he was done eating. They usually spend the night under dense foliage.
The lizard species that we see the most here is the Western fence lizard, commonly called a Blue-belly. They perch on rocks and other vantage points and also climb way up into the oaks looking for food. When they spy an insect from their low perch on a rock they will jump down with a belly flop, which you can hear, and run over to capture and devour it. They are very visual hunters and might not have much of a Jacobsen’s organ, if any at all.
One problem that was occurring during my feeding of the lizards was caused by the bluebirds. They are very aggressive birds and when I would throw out a worm for a lizard the bluebirds would swoop in and grab it first. Even when I would look around and make sure that I did not see a bluebird and then toss the worm out a bluebird would come flying out of nowhere to steal the worm. When I was hand feeding the lizards the problem lessened, however the bluebirds would still make a play for the worm in my hand. In the Western fence lizards the male and female are dissimilar, the males and females look different, so it is easy to tell the sex’s apart. That is not so with the other two lizards I have mentioned. Some behavioral aspects might show some hints as to sex but not by just looking at them. The blue bellies are pretty bold themselves. Even with a bluebird coming in hard the lizard will go for the worm if it thinks it has a chance at it. If I can get the worm close to the lizard it will get it first. Bully for them. The bluebirds were a bit of a pain when it’s lizard feeding time but I have been able to work around that. The Blue-belly lizards helped me out with this problem by moving in on the rocks closer to me. That was cool! I like my animals close to me, the better to observe them. Like our wintering birds we only have the lizards to enjoy for half of the year, however, that is enjoyment enough!
Yours in Nature,