In my humble enjoyment of wild creatures across the planet, I am reminded on this hot summer day of one of my favorite creatures on earth: lizards.
They can thermoregulate their body temperature and gather energy from the sun. Let go of their tail if it is clenched in the jaws of a predator and grow another.
Many have not two, but three eyes. Located on the back of the head, the third eye is used for regulating hormone production and detecting predators.
Our local lizard, the western fence lizard, possesses all these features and more. They are commonly found in California and many of the western states; and classified as Sceloporus occidentalis in the order Squamata and suborder Iguania.
With the current high temperatures lately, I have had the pleasure of watching them skitter around me every day.
They are small lizards, could fit into your hand. But good luck trying to get them into your hand because they’re lightning fast.
Males have a blue underside; you can see it here.
This one (below) has a small circle of pale blue on his throat.
This photo below highlights his many scales.
The scales overlap and are made of keratin. They provide protection from the environment as well as preventing water loss.
Lizards eat the mosquitoes that would otherwise bite me. This is a gift, pure and simple. They hop up and snatch the insect so fast that you can’t even see their tongue at work.
I love to sit outside at the end of a summer day watching the lizards. As opposed to the morning when they are sluggish and still storing the sun’s energy, late in the day they are super fast, like on steroids, after soaking up the sun all day long.
In addition to all this, Sceloporus occidentalis have a feature so extra special that it has become the subject of many scientific studies. They have the ability to neutralize the deer tick bacterium that transmits to humans, thereby curtailing the transmission of Lyme’s Disease.
Deer ticks are the primary carriers of Lyme disease. A protein in the blood of western fence lizards kills the bacterium in these ticks when they attach themselves to a lizard and ingest the lizard’s blood.
Numerous studies have determined that Lyme disease effects less people in California than in the eastern U.S., due to our most common lizard’s neutralizing abilities. That’s a gift too.
More western fence lizard info:
This is a photo of another of our common lizards, the alligator lizard.
These photos, below, are some of my favorite lizards from other parts of the world, starting with the small ones and working up to very large lizards.
If you are squeamish about Squamata, I hope this lizard love fest has warmed you to these magnificent creatures.
Written by Jet Eliot.
All photos in the wild by Athena Alexander.