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.
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.