• Green anoles are often called chameleons due to their ability to change color from green to brown. Pat Foster-Tyler/For the News-Leader

Local lizards we have known

I’m fairly certain that not everyone gives names to the lizards around their home, but Bucko and I certainly do. Anoles and skinks are territorial and hang out in certain places in our yard where we can usually find them, if we look. Some have distinctive markings too, helping with our individual identifications.

One lizard has been a resident of our garage for many months now, a five-lined skink we call Percy for whatever reason. Well, for the past few weeks Bucko reported that Percy had gone missing. He had not seen Percy in awhile, or even noticed any new lizard droppings or discarded insect wings in the usual areas. Maybe it was the cold of winter, maybe a predator had consumed him when he was out of the garage – who knows what happened? But wait! Now there is a new skink in our garage in the same area, using the same territory, but this skink has a reddish head and no lines, clearly a broadhead skink.

I’ve now done some internet research and discovered this fact: Young broadhead skinks look almost identical to five-lined skinks, except for the appearance of a few special scales between the eyes. We never thought to look closely at Percy’s head and my photos don’t reveal the right details, but I think that Percy is still with us, in adult form. Welcome back, Percy!

There’s another lizard catching our attention these days. Bucko named him Shorty. Shorty is a Cuban (a.k.a. brown) anole, a common species in our area, but this one is distinctive. It lost its tail somewhere along the line and the tail is now regenerating, thus the shortness in stature. And, it hangs out on the screen of our bedroom window where Dumela, our cat, and I spend time in the morning watching the backyard and, at least for me, drinking my coffee in bed. Shorty is always there, just another local lizard resident.

There are other lizards in our yard now and most likely in yours, too. Although the Cuban anoles (fairly recent arrivals) are the most common, their cousins are the green anoles. These anoles can change color rapidly from green to light brown to dark brown depending on their substrate and emotions and, for this reason, are locally sometimes mistakenly called chameleons. True chameleons are another lizard group entirely, found only in the Old World (i.e. Africa, South Asia and southern Europe). 

When Cuban anoles first migrated up here from further south, the reptile experts were concerned that they would displace the smaller green anoles. But nature has a way of adjusting things. Now it seems that the green anoles have taken to the trees and shrubs while the Cuban anoles rule the ground, desks and patios. In our yard this year we have more of both species than usual. It’s been a good year for lizards!

Backyard lizards are fun to “train.” If you have the patience and a good supply of mealworms, you can easily get them to recognize you and to come to you to get fed. If you do, you will be surprised at all the anoles that will climb down from the shrubs to partake in the feast!

There is another lizard you might have seen in your yard and thought it was a snake. Glass lizards are snakelike in form, with no legs, but unlike snakes, if you look closely, you will see that they have ears. These lizards have long rigid bodies, more than half of which is actually their tail. When they are attacked, like many lizards including Shorty, they lose their tails to distract the predator from consuming the rest of them, breaking apart like “glass,” I guess, thus their name.

Now, with this information, I hope you will enjoy lizard watching as much as we do. And don’t forget to name your residents—it makes it that much more fun!

News-Leader

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