Cochise County, Arizona : A Rarely Seen Madrean Alligator Lizard Pauses to Pose

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Unexpected Visitor

Today’s visitor, a Madrean Alligator Lizard (Elgaria kingii), made our day at our Cochise County, Arizona dwelling we call the Border Fort. It was late in the day, pretty low light conditions just before sunset and on the shady side of the building, but complaints were not on the menu.

After all, tonight’s post was going to be a simple little thing about How To Pour a Concrete Step.

Wildlife photo ops around here are not exactly feast or famine scenarios. Most of the time, it’s all feast. There are more varieties of wild birds, arachnids, reptiles, mammals, insects and so forth than perhaps anywhere else on the planet unless you count the swamps, jungles, and wetlands of the world.

The desert, at least the Sonoran desert, is anything but barren.

We’d been living on this land for a couple of years before the first Madrean Alligator Lizard made its appearance. The markings were a bit different than this one, but the species ID was never in doubt.

After all, how could anybody misidentify a lengthy lizard with dinky little legs even by lizard standards and a tail more than twice the length of its body that looks like a pointy weapon out of a science fiction movie?

The original tail, anyway. Today’s photogenic camera star has a tail that’s not quite that long, maybe one and two thirds the length of the body.

Which means our buddy already lost at least one tail–these little guys do shed them in crisis–in escaping a predator, quite possibly a lizard-eating snake.

Lobster tail, mmm…. Madrean Alligator Lizard tail, even better…if you’re a whipsnake or some such.

There’s also a bit of a “funny appearance” where this lizard’s tail extends from the body, just behind the back legs. It (the tail) kind of “dips in” a bit more sharply, “flows” less smoothly than the tails of most lizards we’ve seen, either locally or in photographs.

Yep. Bet he regrew that one.

Cool.

Male Madrean Alligator Lizard photographed in Cochise County, Arizona, on May 22, 2013.

Male Madrean Alligator Lizard photographed in Cochise County, Arizona, on May 22, 2013.

Full Body View

What, I talk about the regrown tail and then only show you the head end? That’s not right?

No, it’s not.

Let’s see if we can fix that…yes. Here you go.

Madrean Alligator Lizard in Cochise County, full body view. The tail is long, but not as long as most “original” tails, an indicator of this individual having at least once given up a tail to a predator to keep on living.

Madrean Alligator Lizard in Cochise County, full body view. The tail is long, but not as long as most "original" tails, an indicator of this individual having at least once given up a tail to a predator to keep on living.

Madrean Alligator Lizard in Cochise County, full body view. The tail is long, but not as long as most “original” tails, an indicator of this individual having at least once given up a tail to a predator to keep on living.

Those Teeny Legs Do Work

The first of this species observed right up next to the house–which for whatever reason is where we see them when we do see them–didn’t seem to make much use of those nearly vestigial legs. Instead, it slithered snake-like along the ground, with the front legs seeming to push away from obstacles at times but the rear legs doing nothing at all.

In fact, the rear legs remained folded against the body when the critter was in motion.

However, it turns out that’s not always the case. I was heading into the house after pouring concrete, lugging a few tools and thinking about changing into clothes that wouldn’t shed concrete dust on everything I touched, when the lizard suddenly scoot-slithered away from me.

It took cover behind one leg of the temporary bridge over the still-curing concrete pad for the porch.

O-o-o-kay.

Camera time!

Yeah, I had to be just a little bit mean. Lifted the near end of the bridge with one hand to expose the animal, aimed and clicked the camera with the other.

Tricky maneuver, that.

No, the sweet-talking didn’t convince the Alligator Lizard that having a giant looming in its immediate vicinity was a good thing. There are limits.

However, the resulting photo was highly educational. Caught a shot of the Madrean hesitating in mid-scramble over the far bridge leg. It had paused to look back, trying to figure out whether I was a predatory threat or the friend I claimed to be.

And it looked very much like all four of those almost-not-there appendages were hard at work climbing the board.

Feets do your stuff!

The Madrean Alligator Lizard pauses in mid-climb to see if the picture taking fool who lifted one end of the bridge is friend or foe. NOTE: The overhead boards are pieces of 2" x 4"' lumber, each 3 1/2" wide.

The Madrean Alligator Lizard pauses in mid-climb to see if the picture taking fool who lifted one end of the bridge is friend or foe. NOTE: The overhead boards are pieces of 2″ x 4″‘ lumber, each 3 1/2″ wide.

Close Up of the Climb

Thankfully, it’s possible to operate the Canon PowerShot one-handed. Pulling the zoom control with the same finger that clicks the shutter button allowed for a close up shot of the lizard before he decided to get on outa Concrete Dodge.

By the time the zoom-in photo was taken, he’d (I’m calling this one a he for now) had taken a major up-step position with the rear hind foot.

Yep. The footsies work. This little reptile is going to pass the obstacle course test with frying crullers.

Our new friend passes the Madrean Alligator Lizard combat obstacle course test with frying crullers.

Our new friend passes the Madrean Alligator Lizard combat obstacle course test with frying crullers.



About the Madrean Alligator Lizard

Sighting any kind of lizard is a great thing. Makes our day and all that.

Admittedly, Pam is less thrilled about the Madrean Alligator Lizards than other species. She’s crazy wild in love with the horned toads and especially her tiny Slevin’s bunchgrass lizard buddies that come right up to her shoes to say hi many a day before darting off the path to perch on a dried mud clod and give her the loving lizard eye.

Guess she feels the Madrean is just too…slithery.

She may upgrade her appreciation level for them when I tell her they eat scorpions, though. Any scorpion eater is a friend of Pam’s. (And mine, too, for that matter.)

A cross section of the body looks like it’s kind of squarish. Never noticed that before today.

Ha! My gut instinct was right! This one is definitely a boy. The reptilesofaz.org website states:

“…Males have a broad head and crisp, distinct dorsal pattern. Adult females have a relatively pale dorsal pattern, usually lacking dark posterior borders on the crossbands….”

Why they’ve come to see us is a mystery, though. The same site says they frequent wetlands. Except for the San Pedro River, a fair hike from here for a little lizard, there’s not much wetland in the area.

For that matter, the San Pedro only has water in it on a seasonal basis.

We have a few mosquitoes, too, but those pests supposedly roam as much as a mile or two from their hatching water, and we’re not that far from the river.

Besides scorpions, the Madreans eat grasshoppers, caterpillars, and moths. They’re welcome to all the grasshoppers and moths they can find. Kind of hope our little wall crawling caterpillar friend got cocooned up in time, though….

This species will writhe, poop on you, and bite you if you grab it.

Understandable. Don’t know about the feces, but I’d bite you too, if you grabbed me.

Well. I would if I still had any teeth, anyway.

The Madrean Alligator Lizard tail, close up.

The Madrean Alligator Lizard tail, close up.

Cochise County, Arizona. This Madrean Alligator lizard's body appears squarish in cross section, with a tail that's clearly been regenerated.

Cochise County, Arizona. This Madrean Alligator lizard’s body appears squarish in cross section, with a tail that’s clearly been regenerated.



Return Engagement

This particular little critter turned out to be one of our numerous but always appreciated animal blessings in that it was as curious about me as I was curious about it.

Prior sightings of Madrean Alligator Lizard sightings have always been rather tricky things. They’re diurnal (day hunters), but that doesn’t mean they want to be seen. In every prior instance, the lizard hunted for cover as quickly as it could get there, sometimes hesitating in the open long enough to be photographed, but never all that happy about it.

Today’s visitor was different.

He posed for the camera…and my sense of it was that he knew he was posing.

The photo session lasted for many minutes. During all that time, once he’d cleared the bridge-over-concrete area, he seemed perfectly willing to hang around for as long as the photographer wished.

A regular little reptilian ham.

Beyond that, he didn’t leave when we were done. That is, yes, he did disappear for a while after I moved away, cased the camera, and went back to picking up tools. But as I was taking in the last few items, handsaw and tape measure and carpenter’s square and such…there he was again!

He’d come back around, turned up in exactly the same spot where we’d first met.

This time, he didn’t bother to try to hide completely behind porch timbers. Instead, he looked out as I uncased the camera as if to say, Is this my best side? Please tell me this is my best side!

The light had dropped so drastically that it was necessary to use the flash. He didn’t care. Gave me all the time I needed to experiment, waited until I had a shot that would work…and then, as I moved toward the bridge to finish my final trek into the house for the evening, he shot on across the concrete pad, disappearing somewhere “over there”.

We’ve read about Madrean Alligator Lizards in Arizona (though not necessarily in Cochise County) who lived to 15 years of age…but there are no reports out there about making friends with one in the wild.

Maybe we’ll be the first….

Our newest friend at the Border Fort, one mile north of the Mexican border in Cochise County, Arizona: The Madrean Alligator Lizard poses for a portrait.

Our newest friend at the Border Fort, one mile north of the Mexican border in Cochise County, Arizona: The Madrean Alligator Lizard poses for a portrait.

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