Back to Nature (Published on TBNWeekly.com - Oct. 6, 2004)
Lizard mystery solved
There were many surprises and little joys for a young girl to discover while walking along the leaf littered secret paths of the Great Smokey Mountains: Mushrooms, brightly colored insects, dragonflies, snakes sunning upon large stony overhangs, rambling bubbling brooks, fresh mint, chestnuts, blackberries, pecans, fiddlehead ferns, pinecones, Indian paintbrush, violets, broken bird egg shells, shed snake skins, mounds of moist green moss, soft lichen, acorns, owl pellets, and lizards, lizards, lizards.

There were blue-tailed lizards, bright green lizards, spiny lizards and then geckos, skinks and salamanders. This is where my love and fascination began for lizards – miniature dinosaurs, ancient.

About 13 years ago as I was working in my garden, I heard my son’s excited voice from behind me, “Look at the lizard, Mom!” I stopped working to glance over my shoulder to see the lizard Ryan was excited about.

To my surprise he was holding a small tank he’d brought home from a neighbor equipped with litter, water bowl and a miniature buffalo skull where a speckled lizard head was peaking out. “He’s mine, Mom. Isn’t he awesome?” he said, as his blue eyes beamed.

Ryan knew he was allowed to bring just about anything home and we would feed it and nurture it to health, including squirrels, blue jays and, once, an entire brood of Muscovy ducklings!

The leopard gecko quickly became a member of the family. Ryan gave him the name of Genghis Khan of great warrior reputation. Genghis was about six years old at the time he came to live with us and in very good health. He was docile as are most Leopard Geckos, seemed to enjoy being handled and a perfect choice for a beginning lizard. Today my firefighter-paramedic son, Ryan is twenty-three and Genghis is pushing near twenty years old himself.

Ryan works hard helping people and saving lives. Genghis has spent his days visiting many classrooms delighting and educating hundreds of children.

Genghis remains in good health. If properly taken care of and given a healthy, safe environment to live, Leopard Geckos can live twenty years (and beyond) charming their families with their captivating lizard antics.

Some pets aren’t as fortunate as Genghis. They are brought home with little supervision, planning and care. These families are best to leave the pets to those that deserve them while otherwise enjoying some of our naturally living wildlife lizards instead, such as: the green and brown anoles and the Mediterranean gecko.

One of our readers Steven Jenkins called to express concern about how there are few green anoles today as compared to previous years. I discovered after a few pointed questions that Steve is a reptile enthusiast like me. He was curious as to why it seems the green anoles are being replaced by the brown anoles. We both wondered about the dominance of the brown anoles over the green and discussed some rumors we’d heard but, Steve, you will be most surprised at the answers I found.

It seems that, after some research, brown anoles may not actually be dominant over green anoles. In fact, there are areas where green anoles are dominant over brown anoles.

First, for the benefit of readers who aren’t lizard enthusiasts: How can someone distinguish between a green and a brown anole?

For identification purposes: Green anoles can turn brown, but brown anoles are unable to turn green. Brown anoles can turn darker brown and even black. Brown anoles have strong markings down their backs. Green anoles have a bright blue eye ring while in their green color change and their dewlaps are a quieter shade of burgundy.

Brown anoles typically display near ground level, moving back and forth, up and down while showing off their bright orange dewlaps to impress other males. Green anoles prefer higher and more secretive perches out of the way so, in fact, they may not actually be as visible.

The green anole is the only official native member to the genus in Florida. There does seem to be evidence that there are less green anoles today than in the past. One factor is brown anoles multiply more prolifically. Yet another explanation came as a surprise. Because the brown lizard chooses to display low to the ground making them more visible, they become easy targets for roaming pet cats. Once a kitty has discovered the joys of and becomes more adept at capturing brown anoles he/she then may turn predatory interest to capturing the less conspicuous green anoles. The green anoles are killed off by cats and the more heavily populated brown anole survives.

So to answer your question, Steve, about the disappearance of green anoles you might want to check what the neighbor’s cat had for dinner. This conclusion brings us to another column about whether or not cats should be allowed to roam free and unhindered as wild unnatural predators. That column I shall leave for another day.

Drop Karen a line at: MyMuddyPawsStudio@gmail.com.

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