Discovery of the Year at the Border Fort : The Arizona Alligator Lizard

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A few months ago, an Arizona alligator lizard made its presence known near the Border Fort. This is our third year on this acreage, but the first time we’d seen one of the critters.

When I described the animal to my wife, she was sure I’d seen a snake.

Not likely. Snakes are almost as common as bunchgrass around here; you sort of get used to identifying them on sight. Quickly. The lizard had almost looked like a snake, brown-banded, long, and slithery–and slithering for cover–but something hadn’t seemed quite right. You know. Like there were itty bitty legs involved, or…something.

“Lizard!” I declared, holding my ground. “Snake lizard, sure, but lizard!”

Pam just did the “I’m shutting up now” equivalent of rolling her eyes and calling me badly mistaken, and that was that…for a while.

A few weeks later, her son, our daughter in law, and a teenaged tagalong friend were visiting when they spotted another (or maybe the same) Arizona alligator lizard out behind the camp trailer. It, too, slithered for cover rather quickly, so I didn’t get to “go see” or take pictures.

Still no evidence for the doubting Thomas types, but now Pam did believe there was a snaky-looking lizard slip-sliding around the premises. After all, her son said so, and he’s not nearly as dumb as her not-native-to-Arizona husband.

So there.

Not that we had the species identified. Both sightings had involved lizards running somewhere between 14 and 18 inches in length (tip of nose to tip of tail), but we were still calling these remarkable residents “snake lizards”.

Fast forward to: Today.

You wouldn’t think they’d be so bold this time of year. Even in the middle of the day, it’s not been that warm lately. Sure, we’re just one mile from the Mexican border, but it’s also late November. (November 20, 2011, to be precise.)

This time, when I was picking up my tools for the day–I’m in the middle of giving the Border Fort bathrooms real flush toilets–the Arizona alligator lizard that scoot-slithered under the low plank platforms I use as a workbench…stayed around to pose for a photo shoot.

Yay! And even rah!

That’s why I’ve gone to carrying the camera case clipped to a belt loop all day long.

First photo. Not as skittish as the ones seen earlier.

First photo. Not as skittish as the ones seen earlier.


 Time to move on. Big scary guy getting too close.


Time to move on. Big scary guy getting too close.


Should be safe to poke my head out here and think about it.

Should be safe to poke my head out here and think about it.

As the seconds passed, it became gradually clear that this was going to be a friendly photo shoot. The lizard was definitely a lizard, it seemed to be listening to my promises to make it famous worldwide with no harmful after effects, and–it seemed to be calming down, okay?

Over time, I was able to get as close as I dared without blurring the images (this camera does not focus well under the two-foot range).

There were noticeable details about this remarkable Arizona native: Tiny, tiny, legs attached to the mid-sides, obviously worthless for anything but maybe a bit of “sensing” and possibly “steering”. When the reptile is traveling, the rear legs especially are often (though not always) tucked tight back along the body, just getting out of the way as propulsion is obviously via “snake slither”.

Cool beans.

Once the photo session was complete (and the rest of the tools picked up and put away), I was able to report to Pam that our latest Hub star was now tucked in under the propane tank shed in front of the house. Sweet dreams and all that.

It took a while (thank you, Google Images!) to identify the species as the Arizona alligator lizard.

One remarkable feature of this lizard’s body (remarkable to me, anyway) is the tip of the tail. Everything else forward to the head area is clearly banded, but the long tip (a) is one solid, light brown color, (b) tapers to a very sharp tip, almost like a really nasty thorn or assassination weapon, (c) seems [unlike the rest of the beast] to be utterly rigid and inflexible–but that was an illusion. The photos do show the tail curving at times.

The head is spotted, and–okay. More pics, please.

So...it's really safe to come out, right?

So…it’s really safe to come out, right?


 Handsome me in ALL my glory.


Handsome me in ALL my glory.


Closeup of my handsome tail, with (upper right corner) my teeny hind legs tucked safely along my body).

Closeup of my handsome tail, with (upper right corner) my teeny hind legs tucked safely along my body).


 This is the pose that won me the Mr. Arizona Alligator Lizard Olympia title in 2011.


This is the pose that won me the Mr. Arizona Alligator Lizard Olympia title in 2011.


Holes in rocks must be checked out. Says so in Lizard Living 101.

Holes in rocks must be checked out. Says so in Lizard Living 101.


The lovely lady lizzies leap at this look.

The lovely lady lizzies leap at this look.


...and this one.

…and this one.

Online Field Guide (and other) articles state that the Arizona alligator lizard:

1. Lives mostly on arthropods and snails and sometimes eggs.

Wait a minute…a spider-munching lizard? Now, this guy (or gal) we love indeed! Not that we wish our friends, the wolf spiders and tarantulas especially, to end up lizard lunch. But buddy, you’re welcome to all the black widows and brown recluses and just generally icky daddy long legs spiders you can find.

2. Is “pugnacious” when captured and will thrash around, often delivering a nasty bite.

Oh, yeah? Betcha that writer rudely grabbed one and found out why they’re dubbed Arizona alligator lizards, ya think?

Hey, Mr. Got-Bitten Guy! Got brains?

Sorry. Got carried away.

Anyway, bottom line: We now know we have at least three major populations of lizard species here at the Border Fort, to wit:

1. The desert grassland whiptail lizard. Diet: Ants. Natural pest control.

2. At least one variety of great horned lizard. Diet: Ants. Natural pest control.

3. The Arizona alligator lizard. Diet: Arthropods, snails, and sometimes eggs. Natural pest control.

Now, if we can only come up with a lizard that eats those infernal monsoon chiggers.

 ...and (a couple of hours later) another day at the Border Fort comes to a close.


…and (a couple of hours later) another day at the Border Fort comes to a close.

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