Leaping Lizards!

When I was growing up “back East,” lizards were rare and wondrous creatures. We occasionally glimpsed them scuttling away from beneath a bit of fallen wood or saw them clinging to the damp side of a rock. They’d be gone practically before we could register they were there.

Where the lizards roam

The same cannot be said of the lizards who share my yard here in New Mexico. We have lots of lizards, mostly of two varieties: the Fence Lizard and the New Mexico Whiptail. (Note: I haven’t looked these up. These are the names I was told. Please feel free to contribute details!).

The Fence Lizard is fairly small. I don’t think I’ve ever seen one much larger than five inches long. They’re greyish-brown, marked with not-quite-stripes in darker hues of the same colors. Their skin is just a little bit rough, not quite as rough as that of a horny toad, but not smooth like that of a snake or skink.

We have lots of Fence Lizards, including, right now, some babies about an inch long. These dart across the patio, fooling you for just a second into thinking they’re bugs, before dashing to the shelter of the garden. They’re really, really cute!

(The garden, by the by, has filled out considerably since I wrote about experimenting with compost trenches and seedlings earlier this year. I’ve picked over a gallon of beans in the last two days. We’re having a great zucchini crop. The Hungarian peppers are starting to ripen. So are the oriental cucumbers. But back to lizards…).

The New Mexico Whiptail is a much showier lizard. Like the Fence Lizards, they come in shades of grey and brown with hints of stripes. However, the Whiptail’s smooth, almost satiny, skin is overshot with an iridescent blue sheen.

The Whiptails are larger than Fence Lizards. I’ve seen a few in our yard as long as eight inches. This includes a long, slender tail.

Or sometimes, rather, includes a ghost of a tail, since, like many types of lizards, the Whiptail will sacrifice her tail to escape a predator. This saves Whiptails from becoming the snacks of roadrunners and wandering house cats, both of which seem to find them endlessly fascinating.

What’s really interesting about Whiptails is that they are functionally parthenogenetic. That is, they only have females. Apparently, the females lay already fertile eggs which hatch more females. I’d never realized that a creature as complex as a lizard managed to reproduce with only one gender. I’d thought that was reserved for simple plants or invertebrate animals. Or for humans in Science Fiction stories…

I like the lizards. I like their energy. They go dormant in the winter, but reappear on sunny days, the perfect opportunists. I guess you could say that, for me, lizards may be no longer rare, but they certainly remain very wondrous.

8 Responses to “Leaping Lizards!”

  1. heteromeles Says:

    Parthenogenesis happens. Komodo dragons and other monitors do it too. The fun part with the Komodos is that they have a ZW sex system (the opposite of humans: Females are ZW, males are ZZ. WW is not viable). The fun part with that is that the parthenogenic offspring of a female komodo are all males, and she has half as many viable eggs as does a breeding female. One female monitor washes up on an island, has a litter of sons, does some inbreeding, and pretty soon there’s a new species of monitor on that island.

    Fence lizards are fun! I grew up with them, and it grew very amusing to see how they carefully staked out their territories and fought over them. At the height of the breeding season, the males would have to stop and think before running from us, because they were so pumped up about protecting their turf.

    Whiptails are great too. They don’t have a turf so much as a beat that they patrol, and if you have the time to watch, you’ll probably see them walking past the same plant at the same time every day (roughly). Just like a cop or a bus driver.

  2. Alan Robson Says:

    I love lizards. In Fiji, and similar South Sea Islands, there’s a small lizard which tends to live in houses, on the walls. It has sticky feet (I presume with suckers of some kind) that allow it to run easily up and down vertical surfaces. They tend to spend most of their time on the interior walls of houses just soaking up the heat and feeding on small insects. They are very cute — everyone loves the wall lizards.

    We’ve got quite a lot of lizard species here in NZ as well. Bess, my cat, the mighty huntress, is particularly fond of them and brings them home for me to admire. Whenever possible I rescue them and take them back outside again. One never to be forgotten day, she brought home seven lizards. Or possibly she brought home the same the same lizard seven times. It’s hard to tell with lizards. But certainly the seventh one was looking distinctly fed up when I took it back to the garden, and I’m pretty sure I’d seen it several times before…

  3. Paul Dellinger Says:

    I can’t help but remember all those old movies with “prehistoric” monsters that were actually blown-up pictures of lizards with scales attached. I suppose that was a step up from stop-action animation, although “King Kong” managed to be effective. The parthenogenesis does indeed sound like science fiction.

  4. heteromeles Says:

    Hi Alan,

    Actually, those little Polynesian house geckos are parthenogenetic as well, at least some of them are. Gotta love lizards.

  5. heteromeles Says:

    Sorry about all the saurian nerdistry here. That manuscript I was talking about in the last post actually has aliens that are based on intelligent monitors, and I did a lot of research on the subject earlier this year. I did make the aliens’ reproductive systems a little more, well, alien than what we’re talking about here, though.

  6. janelindskold Says:

    Heteromeles —

    Your comments are delightful! Cheerful enthusiasm about a subject always is wonderful.

    I go into passions about thing’s I’m currently researching. Jim is Very Patient!

    I hope you and the intelligent monitors have fun… I don’t think lizard aliens/ other races have been used as much or as well as they could be, but I recall that Sarah Zettel had a good novel using such.

    Doesn’t mean at all that there isn’t room for yours! Just a comment.

    I’m surprised, actually, we haven’t heard from Tori!

  7. Tori Says:

    I was in Chicago visiting my boyfriend’s family for the past week so I have not been on the internet. 😉

    I have caught many fence lizards in my day and they are all over my parents’ yard. There in northern New Mexico we get refugees in the winter that are tiny (~1 inch) fence lizards that can squeeze under the door and stay warm. We’re always torn about putting them outside when it’s cold enough to snow so we tend to have one to three of them hanging out in our living room all winter long. Once one got into the laundry room though and got thrown in the machine with the wash! Luckily he floated to the top and we rescued a poor waterlogged fence lizard.

  8. janelindskold Says:


    Great story! We put “rafts” in our water barrels so the lizards don’t drown, then check daily.

    What is this about No Internet!! Don’t you know that common knowledge is that someone your age must be wired 24/7 or die!!!

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