Thursday, August 13, 2015

Loving Lizards

I have always loved frogs and lizards, reptiles and small amphibs.

Living for decades in the tropics on a tiny island (pop. 1,400, the size of Manhattan) 90 miles south of Cuba, lizards lived inside and outside my house.

On the island there were Lion Lizards and iguanas and geckos and"wood slaves" (tiny, almost  transparent rubbery lizards that hung around wood and were ocher-colored as old Luden's cough drops).  There was also the occasional scorpion in the house.  And I shook out my sandals and shoes before putting them on.  

Wood Slave

The lion lizards, grey and white as old coral rocks,  disengaged their tails when attackers were near, and left their curly tails rocking back and forth like smiles while the lizards sped away to grow another tail. They would gather outside in coral rock walls just like old American stone walls in New England, and wait for a bread crumb or bit of cheese, and trundle comically toward the food .  We called them Larry, Moe and Curly.
Curly Tail
 There was a good size lizard - pale white - perhaps an albino female gecko, who laid her white eggs behind books  in my bookshelves. Alas, the eggs never hatched, the mother lizard had chosen an infortuitous nest.
Chameleons changed colours, Anoles climbed the screens and ballooned their throats like tiny bright orange spinnakers.  All of the lizards "pumped" their upper bodies up and down - did push-ups - to declare their territory, proclaiming "I AM!". 
 The male lion lizards were chubbier  than their girl friends and would mate fearlessly in the sun, regardless of oglers.  The local boys made a lizard snare from the long central rib of a fresh palm-frond - machete-hacked from nearest bearing coconut palm - a slip knot loop on the end - and they would reach far ahead of the curly tails with the long frond and catch the lizards around the neck and watch the lizards dancing on the snare and then let them go.
Green Anoles Mating
 I supplied lizard food inside my house. The plats du jour that the lizards enjoyed were cockroaches.  People would ask "how can you stand lizards in your house?" 
 And I said they were great bug-eaters! In the morning I would find only the pale brown transparent wings and tiny black twiggish legs and feet of a large flying Caribbean tropical cockroach (also called Palmetto Bug in South Carolina) on the floor. The roaches came in adult and teen-ager sizes, and fortunately the lizards made short shrift of them.

Green iguanas were outliers, bad guys, invasive and large and long and immigrants from some other island, but Rock iguanas (grey) and a few Blue Iguanas (endangered and endemic only in the Cayman Islands), were homeys, good guys. All the iguanas enjoyed basking in the sun, stretching out on the hot macadam roads, and alas tourists and locals ran them over in their trucks and  cars and left them for road pizza.  Huge buzzards - turkey vultures -  gathered like old clubmen and feasted on whatever had been mashed by such careless drivers.
Blue Iguana
 Once, I spotted an anole on my windshield,an adventurous soul nestled next to the window-wiper, and I drove to the bank, to the market, to the Post Office and stopped for a take-out fish-dinner at Star Island restaurant, and that lizard just leaped off the windshield when we got home, and she must have had traveling tales like Eudora Welty to tell all her friends.

 I wasn't the only amphibian/reptile amateur on the island - a friend of mine had a Hickatee (fresh-water and land turtle) who answered to the name of YO...  In addition to lizards, I love frogs,but my frog-lover story is for another time.


Jay–Ottawa said...

In the Yucatan what the locals call ‘tolocs’ can be seen sunning themselves atop the ubiquitous walls surrounding properties. The largest I ever saw was about three feet long—half of him tail––and heavy looking, maybe 30 pounds. They are able climbers and zip up and down the verticals if disturbed. In googling ‘toloc’ just now I see the experts call them black spiny-tailed iguanas.

The other notable in populated districts of the Yucatan is the little besucona (be-su-co-na), so called because of the multiple kissing sounds it makes from time to time. That’s usually the first you know that one is at home in your home. During the day they hang out behind pictures hung on the wall. At night they hunt insects, so most people allow them to stay. The besucona, I just learned, is nothing more than the house gecko.

Toloc and besucona: that’s about all I can offer while staying on topic. But what do you suppose Karen is up to, playing the lizard card?

4Runner said...

Leapin' lizards!!! Thanx for the fun, informative article. Here on my home island (Key Biscayne FL) we have all these lovable critters, presumably immigrants from Cuba. Plus, on a grander scale, loggerhead & leatherback turtles are now everyday visitors, nesting on our beaches.

Word of the day: DEWLAP. That's the inflatable loose pouch of throat skin on anoles et al.

Will said...

Love me some lizards on Sardonicky. Thanks, Nan!

Here's a short but sweet video with the coolest title ever: Green Anole Head Bobbing Flare Dewlap. Enjoy!