Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Befriending an Eastern Fence Lizard

The other day found your blogger and a few botanical cohorts out and about in Adams county to see what spring bloomers we could muster up as spring continues to unfurl.  In short, there was no disappointment in what we found as the forest and barrens had once again come alive with wildflowers and budding trees and the air aloft with the songs of migrants returned.  The morning dawned clear and warm with temperatures approaching 80 by early afternoon, which led to some active cold-blooded critters in the plentiful sunshine.  None were more memorable than a particular eastern fence lizard (Sceloporus undulatus) I was fortunate enough to get an up close and personal experience with.

Eastern Fence Lizard (Sceloporus undulatus)

Our group was walking down from some remote dolomite limestone barrens along a ridge of exposed bedrock when out of the corner of my eye I detected quick flashes of movement.  Being in such a sun-drenched, rocky environment, I knew the culprit before I could even land eyes on it.  I've seen fence lizards in other southern and southeastern counties before but hands down the best place to get a glimpse of one is in Adams county.

Eastern Fence Lizard (Sceloporus undulatus)

I took a few steps towards the motion and with lightning speed the lizard responded by climbing up a fallen limb to perhaps get a better glance at what may potentially be in pursuit.  Coincidentally, the little lizard had positioned itself perfectly for some photogenic shots and I quickly snapped what I could before it decided to bolt off again. Fortunately, the fellow cooperated stupendously and didn't seem to mind my presence after all and with some speed of my own and admittedly a lot of luck, I managed to pluck it off its perch with it softly but securely in my grip.

Your blogger and a cute fence lizard

it squirmed and resisted for a bit and included some painless bites in a vain attempt to scare its "predator" off for good measure.  Eventually it calmed and I was able to carefully stroke my finger down its head and back in hopes of relaying the message I meant it no harm or ill will.  For some humor, I released the micro-dinosaur on my shoulder to see what response it would have.  I'm certainly not the type to take a selfie, I find photographs are much better without my mug in it but I couldn't resist the chance this time around.

Closer view of an eastern fence lizard on your blogger's arm (photo credit: Daniel Boone)

Once again, it didn't seem to mind me and decided to scurry across my shoulders and up and down my back and arms even as I began to continue my walk through the woods.  The group was equally pleased to get a close and hands on look at such a fleeting critter.  My friend Dan Boone (even semi-regular readers should know him by now) even snapped a photo of myself with my new friend.  The plump fence lizard eventually must have tired of hitching a ride as not soon after the photo above, it scampered down my leg and into the leaf litter to continue on with its day.  I fully doubt if fence lizards have the mental faculties and/or ability to make "friends" but I wouldn't hesitate to give my scaled companion the same label.

Smaller, younger fence lizard
Smaller, younger fence lizard

That wasn't the first time I've handled these cute herps and I hesitate to think it will be my last.  I managed to catch this smaller fence lizard last autumn while hiking through a similar habitat in Adams county.  Their delicate details and docile demeanor make them one of my favorite animals to have in the hand.  Most people think of the desert or someplace more dry and foreign than Ohio to see lizards but we do have a handful of native species. Alongside the eastern fence lizard, Ohio is also home to the broad-headed skink (Plestiodon laticeps), five-lined skink (P. fasciatus), and little brown skink (Scincella lateralis).  A fifth species in the common wall lizard (Podarcis muralis) occurs as well but as an introduced, non-native species from Europe.

Fence lizards can easily blend in in their rocky habitats

Fence lizards can be sexed by the amount/intensity of metallic blue scales on their stomachs and throats. Males have brightly colored blue ventral badges, especially during courtship and tend to be more reddish brown with darker sides and broken cross bands on their backs.  Females on the other hand have little to no metallic blue coloring on their ventral side and are light grayish brown with more distinct cross-banding on their backs.  The more brightly colored a male is, the more attractive he is likely to be to a mate; the same can be said for females and their blandness.  All that being said, I believe all the fence lizards posted so far have been females for their lack of any real blue coloration.  The lizard from the beginning is definitely colored and banded in a more male fashion but it completely lacked any blue coloration.  For any readers more knowledgeable in the matter feel free to correct my gender assignments.

Male fence lizard showing off darkened throat

This particular fence lizard nicely exhibits the dark blue coloration on his throat and stomach (out-of-view).  I wish the lighting was better in this photograph to show off just how vibrant and spectacular their metallic blue badges really are.

Had botany never really fully sank its teeth into me and infected me to my core with its endless fascination and interest, I would have put my money on going down the path of a herpetologist.  Reptiles and amphibians have always fascinated me and to this day hold a special place in my heart.  The time of the lizard may have ended well over 60 million years ago but it's wonderful to see their micro-sized relations exist today and add a well-needed and deserved part in the diversity of our endlessly enchanting planet.

1 comment:

  1. Wonderful! I think that lizard sensed what a good guy you are, Andrew.