Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Lizard on the Fence

"What's in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet."

Find the lizard- Click to enlarge
Warning-   Here comes a rant.

Fence lizards are a familiar sight on our deck at Bull Creek.  They scurry along, freezing when they think you see them to take advantage of their camouflage coloration.  On a tree or rock they can become practical invisible.  In the summer mating season, the males get the blues.

Male Fence Lizard-J.D.Wilson herpsofnc.o
According to the MDC, our common fence lizard has had its name changed recently, apparently without the lizard's permission.  Such changes are made by academics and don't involve field biologists or amateur naturalists.  The northern fence lizard,  (Sceloporus undulatus hyacinthinus) is now considered a distinct new species called the prairie lizard, (Sceloporus consobrinus).  Even  Wikipedia can't keep up with the changes.  This brings about a pet peeve of mine, changing the common names of plants and animals.

I understand the changes of genus and species when they are found to be described by an earlier source or altered by DNA or other evidence.  Credit where credit is due, even if the discoverer died 200 years ago.  It is annoying to me when they change some of the only Latin I know (except E pluribus unum which is stable for now).  I finally mastered the toothwort, logically named Dentaria, and then they changed it to Cardamine.  I wonder if this isn't a product of the Botanist Full Employment Act.

So back to the newly minted "prairie lizard."  According to the MDC reptiles site, "This is a common forest-dwelling species that often lives around country homes and rock gardens, split rail fences and stacks of firewood."  Does that sound like prairie to you?  Me neither.

Also it says "Prairie lizards live in the southern half and into the northeast corner of Missouri; absent from the northwestern portion."  Below on the left is the distribution map for the "prairie" lizard.  On the right is the distribution of prairies in Missouri. 
Prairie Lizard Range
Prairie Map- Schroeder

Now adding insult to injury, our precious black rat snake a.k.a. western rat snake (Pantherophis obsoletus) has been renamed the Texas rat snake.  They did not originate in Texas which doesn't seem to have any logical claim in their naming.  They can climb trees, arguably a wasted skill in Texas.  RATS!  At least they weren't downgraded to a mouse snake.
Adult Texas rat snakes aren't even black!

Texas rat snake range- Snakeconservation.org
Naming is done by the SSAR- Society for the Study of Amphibians and Reptiles.  They can change the Latin all they want, but please put take our lizards out of the prairie and back on their "fence."