Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Lizard Lessons

Lizards are the focus of Francis Skalicky's Thursday column in the News-Leader. Missouri has 13 varieties of lizards, most of which move silently, unseen around us in the woods.   They tend to move in quick darts, then freeze to take advantage of their camouflage.  For the most part, if they don't move, we don't see them.
Five-lined skink juvenile- tail tip gone
One notable exception is the juvenile five-lined skink, whose irridescent blue tail begs for your attention.*  It may be a way of advertising to adults that "I am one of yours, so don't eat me."  If you happen to catch one by the tail, that is usually all you end up with.  Like some other lizards, this skink's tail can break off while special muscles act as a tourniquet to prevent blood loss.  Their tail gradually grows back, though not with its prior beautiful color. 
Male five-lined skink
Like young men, many male lizards show themselves to females in colorful ways.  The five-lined skink has more than his lines to display.  When mating season arrives he develops a bright red nose and face, the W.C. Fields of the lizard family.  Their territory is more ground based and they escape under logs and leaf litter when threatened.*
Fence Lizard at Bull Mills
A fence lizard will frequently watch you from a post or other raised area, escaping to the far side of a tree like a squirrel when threatened.  When sunning themselves on our deck, they will frequently allow me to photograph them up close.
Fence lizard- mating season

There is something about them that cries out to young boys "Catch me if you can!"  If you catch a male during mating season, you might be able to see the bright blue chin he uses to advertise his masculine prowess.*

Predator and Prey from MDC says:

"All of our lizards eat insects (grasshoppers, ants, crickets and beetles) and spiders. They are valuable as a natural control of destructive species, such as termites. Skinks and fence lizards are known to eat the winged life stage of termites (called "alates") as they emerge from underground in mid-spring. And, the eastern collared lizard is an important predator of other lizards!
King snakes and racers will eat lizards at every opportunity. The roadrunner, a bird that lives on glades in southwest Missouri, is a primary lizard eater. Hawks are important lizard predators. Skunks and badgers dig up lizard eggs. Unfortunately, house cats have proven to be a primary predator of all species of lizards."
Wikipedia has good information on lizards.
*Pictures from UGA.edu.

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