• A large gator with a bad eye in the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge in Folkston, Ga. Photo by Bucko Turley/For the News-Leader

Reptiles on my mind

Reptiles are all around me lots of the time, but I barely pay them any attention. Both Cuban and green anoles scuttle around my garden and decks, pond turtles sun themselves on the far bank of our pond, and now and again a skink or a gecko moves into our garage where it lives largely unseen. But lately I’ve been having reptile encounters of the close kind, three very different reptiles along with three very different stories.

Let’s start with the gopher tortoises. These land-based reptiles dig deep burrows that provide protection from the weather and habitat for many other critters as well. Most usually they live alone, one tortoise per burrow, unless they cozy up briefly during mating times. All over our dunes and in our natural parks you can easily find gopher tortoise burrows and sometimes even see the tortoises themselves slowly nibbling on the vegetation or (gasp!) walking deliberately across busy roads. (Please drive with caution and yield to the tortoises. They know where they are headed and will get there quickly by tortoise standards.)

Very rarely do I see much tortoise action but this New Year’s Day was a triple play. My gal friends and I had just gotten out of our parked car at the Scott Road beach access when we noticed two tortoises engaged with each other right under the “Tortoise Crossing” sign. The male started walking toward a nearby tortoise burrow and the female followed readily behind. In moments, the male was head bobbing in a courtship display and the pair was romancing again as they slid together into the hole. But then, surprisingly, the female quickly crawled out of the burrow and ran off at high tortoise speed across the parking lot. The male backed out of the burrow more slowly and began head bobbing toward the interior of the hole. Inside, I saw another tortoise! In moments, though, the male turned around and he too was heading down the parking lot in a different direction. We three gals spent some time making up the story line:

“You didn’t tell me you were married!”

“I’m sorry, honey!”

“Get out!”

Who knows what was really going on, but we had a good laugh about it.

The following day, Bucko and I took our monthly drive up to the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge outside Folkston, Ga. The U.S. government was shut down but the park gate, thankfully, was still open. As usual, we drove the loop road looking for wildlife and, as is often the case, we saw something different: A large alligator was hauled out beside the road. Nothing unusual about this, but then we noticed its eyes. This fellow apparently was blind in one eye.

Back at home, the reptiles were still on my mind, this time in the form of a very small one. For months Bucko, Dumela and I have watched a green anole outside our jigsaw puzzle table window, but when I adjusted the screen and glass window, the anole got inside our house. It was a happy New Year for Dumela, but Bucko and I felt sorry for the lizard.

It took us nearly two days to finally corner the anole and catch it in order to move it outside. In the meantime, Dumela had a new preoccupation. She spent much of her awake time in the puzzle room, sniffing behind bookcases, following scent trails across the floor, and looking longingly at the anole when it surfaced again, high on the wall and way out of her reach.

Ultimately, Bucko caught the lizard before Dumela did, and it is now residing back in its territory on the proper side of the window. We were quite happy that we rescued a reptile from a possible calamity like the gator encountered. Now it is once again free to find a mate to interact with outside our window.

Never a dull moment in the world of reptiles, at least not right now, or so it seems. Keep your eyes open and maybe you too will have close encounters of the reptile kind to ring in the New Year!

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