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Reptile Tales
Julie Maxey-Allison | 10th Street

Photo Julie Maxey-Allison.

Although there are 6000 species of lizards living about the world with one sort or another having run around for some 220 million years, ours are mostly Western Fence lizards, small, quick, and at times tailless due to prior engagements.

Being reptiles, they are cold blooded. They cruise around on four legs running with a strong side-to-side motion during the day to regulate their body temperature, seeking cushy spots in the sun or a bit of shade. You can find them basking on your paths, rocks, posts, often in plain sight, a dangerous place, because they turn into easy targets for predators such as birds and snakes. Luckily for them, they are fast and may just lose a tail in a scuffle. As you might imagine, losing a tail is stressful for lizards but, while they try to hang on, they will drop them as a last defense. Their trick is the muscles in that now-detached tail continue to contract, causing the tail to flop around and so distracting the predator while the rest of the lizard escapes.It then takes a lot of energy for a lizard to regrow a tail and that process uses up a lot of the body’s stored food of insects—beetles, mosquitoes, spiders and ticks. In an interesting twist, if a tick instead bites a lizard, a protein in the lizard’s blood kills the tick’s Lyme disease-carrying bacteria and so stops the tick’s ability to spread the disease.

Male lizards are territorial. They will fight off other males who trespass onto what they consider their territory, a place that is resplendent with resources to attract a female: food, sun, protection from predators. Males show off their physical prowess for females through inflating their bodies, wagging their tails and doing their pushups. Note: new research done from the feminine “gaze” suggests that the lady lizards are “hot to trot” and may or may not stick with a single male. From there, as the song goes, birds do it, bees do it, educated fleas do it, so do lizards. If all goes well the female will lay eggs.

In case you are wondering: the one and only dangerously venomous native lizard in California is the extremely rare Gila Monster and they live in the eastern Mojave Desert.



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