Thursday, September 29, 2011

Warm Weather Friends

During the warmer months in Florida including September, there are few times when you don’t see scads of lizards lounging in bushes, trees and on fences. Though they are mostly solitary reptiles of a territorial nature, it’s rare to walk out on the patio and see fewer than two or three of these gentle creatures basking on a tabletop, the arm of a chair, propped in the leaves of a plant or scampering across the tile. Despite their numbers, lizards are intriguing enough to be the target of children and toddlers running to grab one, though they easily evade these naive stalkers. Not long ago a friend gave me a birdhouse which I placed on the patio table beside a giant fern, a favorite hangout for the lizards. On more than one occasion I have seen lizards go into the birdhouse and park themselves there with no more than a head poking out, ever vigilant for insects around the fern.

As a kid in Louisiana I used to catch lizards by the dozen, curious one day, cruel the next. We played with them in more ways than you count, some of our methods bizarre and highly questionable. Probably the most extreme was our game of astronaut training with lizards, which has been recounted here in a guest post a few months back. But these days I am painfully repentant about those childhood games and like to think that now my thoughts toward such harmless and beautiful reptiles are more gentle and caring.

From the scientific side, lizards are classed in the same order with snakes, and from the standpoint of zoologists snakes and lizards are practically the same thing, except that lizards have legs. The Carolina anole is a tree, or arboreal lizard found in the southeastern US, including Louisiana, and a very common sight here on the Florida coastal plain. The anole lives on small insects like crickets, spiders, grasshoppers and the occasional moth. It may also at times eat certain kinds of grass. Its ability to change color prompts many to call it a chameleon, but a lizard’s color-changing abilities are not as sophisticated as a true chameleon. They are territorial creatures and the males will fight other males to defend their territory; not unheard of to see one fighting his own reflection in mirrored glass. They are affected by stress which is visible in a constant and unchanging brown, lethargy and a long-lasting black semicircle behind the eye. Healthy specimens will often exhibit a good awareness of their surroundings. It isn’t uncommon to see the males during breeding season courting females with a colorful extension of the dewlap on their throats and bobbing up and down in a push-up like movement. When the female is ready she will let the male catch her, and with a gentle nip he grasps the skin above her neck and wraps his tail around and underneath her tail near her vent. In this posture the mating ritual is enacted.

The female lays the first clutch of one or two eggs in two to four weeks, but continues to lay eggs during the season until she has produced about ten eggs. The eggs are buried in soft soil or compost and abandoned. Left to incubate in the light of the sun, if all goes well they will hatch in thirty to forty-five days. The young hatchlings must fend for themselves without the care of an adult, always vigilant for larger lizards, mammals, birds or snakes who will eat the small babies in a gulp. If they are able to evade predators, the average lizard will live eighteen months, though some have been known to live longer.


  1. Interesting that a lizard doesn't live but about 18 months. There are so many around my home that they must be mating at a very high rate for they scurry everywhere when I walk out of the door.

  2. Indeed a common sight and the subject of too many childhood experiments. Glad it didn't elevate to killing cats and dogs and eventually humans. Now I take such joy in the creatures that surround the koi pond. It is a constant reminder of the value of all living things.


About Me

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Oak Hill, Florida, United States
A longtime expat relearning the footwork of life in America