Leaping Lizards! It Looks Like Dinotopia in the Garden


Leaping Lizards and Other Reptilian Adventures I enjoy watching the reptiles at the Townhouse Gardens. They chase each other across the rock...

Leaping Lizards and Other Reptilian Adventures

I enjoy watching the reptiles at the Townhouse Gardens. They chase each other across the rocks and the patio. I have seen them leap for insects so they must be one of the good guys in the garden. I have read that they will eat fruit in the garden, but I haven't seen evidence of that happening.

Reptiles are an ancient group of animals, the first to conquer the land with hard egg shells that freed them from a life cycle in water (the amphibians), they are the ancestors of dinosaurs, birds, and mammals. We are not big fans of the reptiles that slither such as the black cobra that was in our house in Kuala Lumpur, or that Linda hit with her golf ball on the course at the Kelab Darul Ehsan. I am also happy to live in a location that does not worry about alligators or crocodiles walking on to the patio looking for a meal. But some are cute, like the lizards in our garden, or the geckos that climbed our walls in Malaysia and Nepal. 

I learned about lizards from my Rubidoux High School biology teachers, Terry Snell and Ron Needham. They had adjoining classrooms. In one of the rooms they set up a large above ground pool filled with desert sand and rocks. Then they took some of us out to the desert to hunt for lizards. A fishing pole with a noose at the end was an effective tool to capture the creatures and a burlap bag to store them. Spiny granites, chuckwallas, desert iguanas and horny toads were the victims that we would take back for the pool in the classroom.

Once a year, Snell and Needham would take six of their best (male!) students to the exclusive Jaeger Palaver in the middle of nowhere in the Mojave Desert. Dr. Jaeger was highly misinformed misogynist. The event was adult male only, so we had to be on our best behavior, for the most part, and just stay out of the way. Here is a link from the Los Angeles Times about the event. Once camp was setup, the six (young!) men went hiking, with fishing rods in hand, to a small rocky hill in the distance. Its shape was a sharp contrast to the surrounding flat desert. Those of you with desert experience know that distances are hard to judge in that landscape, and what we thought was a short hike, took more like an hour. But once we reached the base, it looked like there was a cave above us, a perfect location to lookout to the Palaver in the distance. We scrambled up the large boulders, our destination close, so very close, just one more big rock and we would be on the lip of the cave, and then...

Ed, who would go on to the Air Force Academy, froze. He had made it to the top, he was on the lip of the cave. We were right behind him, ...

Curious factoid about the western rattlesnake. They may spend the winter in a "den" with hundreds of snakes for warmth and breeding. They will return each year to the same den. The rattle of a single snake is very distinctive. Multiply it several times and you have a buzz like cicadas. 

... we had discovered a den of rattlesnakes. Standing still was not an option. We scrambled down the hill, leaving half of our poles in our wake. Ed, a cross country runner, made it back to camp first. We breathlessly told our teachers about the snakes, they seemed unimpressed and said they had removed a sidewinder from under one of the cots. 

That evening we sat on camp chairs and listened to the presentations of numerous wildlife scientists, ecologists and astronomers. Dr. Jaeger was said to have discovered the first hibernating bird. After the presentations, we made our way back to camp. We did a quick sweep for snakes, none! Then Mr. Needham got out his UV lantern. 

In my travels around the world, I have been very fortunate to see some pretty amazing bio-luminance such as synchronous lightning bugs along a Malaysian river and the Te Anau Glowworm caves of New Zealand. But when Mr. Needham moved the UV lantern back and forth around the camp, the ground was a-glow. Small patches of luminance scampered across the surface. Each patch was a scorpion. Small and yellow, hard to see, but they glowed in the dark of night under the UV light. They were too numerous to count. Five students and one teacher crammed into the two vehicles for the night. Mr. Snell and I stayed in our cots. I'm sure we had a better rest. In any case, I was able to look at the stars on a clear desert night and I had survived a den of snakes. Life was good. I think I had dreams of desert iguanas with ultra-violet eyes eating scorpions beneath my cot.

Here is a video of what I believe is a female spiny granite lizard leaping for some prey and then a male leaping:

This video requires turning on the sound, cranking it up to eleven, and taking yourself back to the Cretaceous period:



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At Home and Away: Leaping Lizards! It Looks Like Dinotopia in the Garden
Leaping Lizards! It Looks Like Dinotopia in the Garden
At Home and Away
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