Cochise County Reptiles: I Accidentally Glue Trap a Tree Lizard, Urosaurus Ornatus

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It really was an accident. I spotted the tiny Urosaurus ornatus, a Tree Lizard (or Ornate Tree Lizard) when I was setting out the accidental glue trap. This species is described on some sites as “the most common lizard in Arizona”, so it should have come as no surprise to see one hanging out near our off grid Cochise County, Arizona, home. Even so, it was the first one to make itself known during our years on this acreage.

Yes, of course the Canon PowerShot camera snapped a few photos for posterity.

However, the glue trap really was accidental–did I mention that already?–a mere by-product of working with a few glue-together Allure brand floor tiles in order to cover the two steps that lead from the Border Fort’s front door down into the kitchen area. Pam has never objected to the way I built our home slightly “in” the earth, but she does complain on a regular basis about the impossibility of keeping the wooden steps clean. They’re nothing but a cross-hatched pattern of 2″ x 4″ board pieces, rife with dirt-magnetizing cracks between the boards. It was time to tile up.

Unfortunately, thoughtlessness often leads to disasters of one sort or another, and this afternoon’s tile cutting exercise was no exception. I’d been at it for an hour or two, trekking back and forth between the pile of lumber that was serving as a work bench (and also as a home for the little tree lizard) and the house. Cutting tile with a utility knife is one of my least favorite things to do, but there was only one more small piece of tile to slice for the day before wrapping things up and starting on the evening chores.

Uh-oh. What’s this? The Urosaurus ornatus had come boldly back out from under the protective pile of 4″ x 4″ posts and encountered the Great Gray Glue Trap, the glue covered edge of a tile left lying carelessly about to trap the unwary or, even worse, the lizard fool enough to trust a human.

I was appalled. That’s the word: Appalled. The poor thing was stuck fast, not unlike a mouse in a glue type of mouse trap (which I won’t use), a fly on fly paper (which I will use), a fly in a spider’s web, a–you get the picture.

The tiny tree lizard was stuck fast to the glue edging on a piece of floor tile I'd unthinkingly left lying around to trap the unwary.

The tiny tree lizard was stuck fast to the glue edging on a piece of floor tile I’d unthinkingly left lying around to trap the unwary.

Guilt circled like a pack of hungry vultures spotting a dying man in the desert, but guilt could wait. There had to be a way to free the lizard safely…didn’t there? It wouldn’t be easy; the glue on those tile strips is sticky stuff, enough to make me regret it every time a stray finger comes in contact with the adhesive. If it could get a 170 pound man’s attention, what chance did a half-ounce lizard have?

None at all, I tell you. None at all.

But I couldn’t face the idea of this innocent creature dying hard because of my screwup. I’ve had enough of those experiences in my life, thank you very much. The saddle mare, Fay, who impaled her gut on a beanpole stump I’d cut off too high above the ground when I was ten, for example. Dad had to shoot her in the head to put her out of her misery. I had to dig a hole by hand big enough in which to bury her. Then it turned out she wasn’t buried deeply enough, began to stink, and Dad yanked her rotting carcass out of the ground with a log chain and the farm tractor, dragging the remains up and over to Choke Cherry Gully so she could finish decomposing in peace.

That was a while ago. No way was a fresh example of my inhumanity to the innocent acceptable.

But how? How could I free the little tree lizard without harm to its wee body?

I didn’t know, but I had to try. Calling briefly on Prajapati, the Eck Master who works with animals, I set to work. The first few thoughts and attempts didn’t work (so won’t be described here), but I managed not to do any damage, either, so that was good.

In the end, it boiled down to only one possibility that I could see. I would have to carve out the bit of gluey tile holding the lizard so that the big, awkward, heavy remainder of the tile would no longer be a factor. This could be done with a utility knife if I was really, really careful not to touch the animal with the blade.

That much worked. Not only that, but I was able to “peel” the long tail gently (and slowly) up from the neighboring tile, noting the rise and fall of the chest as the tree lizard breathed, a normal rhythm, nothing runaway. It felt like she (could have been a he, but hey) understood I was trying to help. Most of the time I worked at the problem, she rested quietly, eyes often closed.

The tree lizard's "glue trap" has now been cut away from the rest of the floor tile.  The tail of the animal peeled up and away (carefully and slowly) from the glue that had held it.  We're making progress.

The tree lizard’s “glue trap” has now been cut away from the rest of the floor tile. The tail of the animal peeled up and away (carefully and slowly) from the glue that had held it. We’re making progress.

While I was most certainly not watching the clock during this operation, it seemed like peeling the tail (ever so slowly and carefully) from the glue that had held it had taken a minute or so to do. Awesome; perhaps this could be done after all. But the next part would be even trickier. There was no way to use a blade beyond this point; it would have to be 100% finger work, breaking bits of tile away and peeling those bits from the lizard’s skin without harming the skin or anything inside the skin.

Brain surgeons have nothing on the level of focus I brought to bear, but during the occasional stop-and-study-the-problem-some-more breaks when photos were taken, I apparently snapped a picture of the sky without even knowing it.

I didn't even know I'd taken this picture of the sky.

I didn’t even know I’d taken this picture of the sky.

The next two bits of tile removal freed part of her right front foot, ditto for her left front foot, and her entire under-the-head area. Without question, the “chin removal” exercise took multiple minutes to complete. Throughout all of this, Lady Lizard remained impressively calm, even when her bottom-side hide was stretching out a bit a I ever so slo-o-owly applied the lightest possible pullaway pressure.

With each bit of her body that was freed from the glue, I felt as if I, too, was escaping a trap.

Two more bits of tile removed.  She now has parts of both front feet and all of her head free.

Two more bits of tile removed. She now has parts of both front feet and all of her head free.

Top view.  The tree lizard seemed to appreciate my efforts in getting her free from the glue.

Top view. The tree lizard seemed to appreciate my efforts in getting her free from the glue.

Side view.  Note how relaxed the little lizard seems, just chilling, letting me work.

Side view. Note how relaxed the little lizard seems, just chilling, letting me work.

Tiptop view.

Tiptop view.

There were times when I couldn’t see exactly how I could get hold of yet another tiny bit of tile between thumb and forefinger and break it without a knife, but sooner or later–my determination was so absolute–a way always became clear. This next chunk peeled away from a portion of the lizard’s abdomen, and all of the right rear leg and foot.

This was a big deal. Lady Lizard now had freedom to move a limb as well as her head. Yet she continued to take it easy. This wee beastie was, I could tell, a remarkable Soul.

Peeling away from part of the abdomen and all of the right rear leg and foot.

Peeling away from part of the abdomen and all of the right rear leg and foot.

Still chillin'.

Still chillin’.

Just hanging out, dude.

Just hanging out, dude.

In a way, the final tile breaking and glue removal procedures–two of them–were the trickiest and probably the least comfortable for the tiny tree lizard to endure. Both involved major peels away from large expanses of tummy skin. And finally, she did snap at me–but only twice, once biting (but of course I barely felt it) and once not even coming close. I kept talking to her throughout, reassuring her, letting her know what we were doing and why.

The next to last piece had to be broken away from the back half of her underside. This was a long process but went surprisingly smoothly.

The final tile break, before peeling the back half away from the lizard's underside.

The final tile break, before peeling the back half away from the lizard’s underside.

Believe it or not, she's still more relaxed than not.

Believe it or not, she’s still pretty relaxed.

The very last bit of tile removal was quite possibly the worst. Her forward underbelly came loose in the usual fashion (slo-o-owly, of course), but the glue just did not want to let go of its last grip on her left front leg. Getting the blasted stuff to let go without pulling something out of joint or worse…that was a real challenge. It was during this scary, frustrating time that she threw her second snap my way, but I was pretty sure she didn’t mean it.

And finally–finally!–she was free to take off. I made no attempt to hold her, delighted to see that she appeared to be 100% mobile in normal lizard fashion. She wasn’t even overly traumatized, pausing to think it over and look back up at me a couple of different times before she disappeared back under the lumber pile.

One Tree Lizard, Urosaurus ornatus, as good as new!

One Tree Lizard, Urosaurus ornatus, as good as new!

As soon as the Tree Lizard had skittered back to safety, I gathered up all of the glue trap tile pieces and hauled them inside, grinning ear to ear. There was a bit more work to do on the step-covering project, trash to burn, the generator to service, and the evening chores to tackle. Just another day at the Border Fort.