In restoring this archive from a WordPress backup, some image links were broken. This may be fixed in the future, but, as noted, this is not a live website per se, but an archive and inactive one.

Also please note that most, if not all, external links will be broken.

March 26th, 2018 by jjdavis in Announcements | Comment (1)

Johnson’s Newt Oil

I have always loved the Firesign Theater.

August 17th, 2008 by jjdavis in Announcements | Comments Off on Johnson’s Newt Oil

Basement Toad

This toad lives in my friend’s basement, and has lived down there for years.  Sometimes we wonder if it ever gets lonely.

August 16th, 2008 by jjdavis in Amphibians | Comments Off on Basement Toad

George Orwell Blogs About Catching Snake

Yes, you heard right.  George Orwell, author of 1984 and Animal Farm, is blogging from the great beyond.

Actually, it’s the organization who runs The Orwell Prize that’s doing the blogging, publishing Orwell’s diaries exactly 70 years from the day each entry was written.

And in the very first post, George describes catching a snake.

August 9th, 2008 by jjdavis in Snakes | Comments Off on George Orwell Blogs About Catching Snake

5-Lined Skink

Delilah, who I think is the only person who actually visits this website, asks:  "I hope you don’t mind me asking if you know what kind of lizard this is. Just tell me if you don’t know. S’cool. :-)"

lizard 2

This lizard is, I think, a "5-Lined Skink" (Eumeces fasciatus).  I’ve seen one of those here in McKinney at the park.

Thank you for sending me these pictures, Delilah!

May 31st, 2008 by jjdavis in Lizards,Skinks | Comments Off on 5-Lined Skink

Rough Green Snake…?

Delilah writes:  "Do you know much about snakes? We saw a skinny 2′ green one."


That snake looks like what we used to call a ‘vine snake’ and they’re harmless.  It looks to be, officially, a "Rough Green Snake" (Opheodrys aestivus).  That’s my guess based upon the area where you found it, otherwise I’d eyeball it as a Smooth Green Snake.

May 28th, 2008 by jjdavis in Non-Lizards,Snakes | Comments Off on Rough Green Snake…?

Broadhead Skink

Delilah writes:  "I’m attaching a picture of a lizard. I took it while walking near my house. Do you know what it is?"


I do believe this is none other than a Broadhead Skink (Eumeces laticeps).

May 25th, 2008 by jjdavis in Lizards,Skinks | Comments Off on Broadhead Skink

Some People Get Snow, Some Get Lizards

Ever want to catch a live, wild iguana?

Easy.  Go down to Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park on Key Biscayne when the weather gets cold.  They rain from the trees, and lay dormant on the ground until the sun comes out and warms them up.

According to the Miami Herald, the locals aren’t too fond of the iguanas, complaining they munch the local hedges and gardens.  One commenter says, "If they are a pest why not cull them while they are laying around comatose?"

Dude, they’re lizards, not rats.  I’d fill a sack with them, take ’em home, and start my own iguana ranch.

January 17th, 2008 by jjdavis in Iguanas,News | Comments Off on Some People Get Snow, Some Get Lizards

Python Ordered on a No Golf Ball Diet

I’ve heard that snakes will swallow strange things, like, oh, alligators, and I personally saw a little garter snake trying to eat a sparrow way too large for it to ever successfully swallow.

Here, however, is a National Geographic article about a Australian Carpet Python who has a taste for golf balls:  Python Undergoes Golf Ball-ectomy

January 6th, 2008 by jjdavis in News,Snakes | Comments Off on Python Ordered on a No Golf Ball Diet

Lizard Attack on Live TV

January 1st, 2008 by jjdavis in News | Comments Off on Lizard Attack on Live TV

Bearded Dragon Gives Birth To Toy Lizard

Florida veterinarian John Rossi was confronted by a seven year old girl named Finley and her pet lizard, Mushu, who she thought was giving birth.  It looked like another tail was protruding from beneath Mushu’s tail.

Rossi sedated the bearded dragon and began pulling on the second tail, and was rewarded with a pair of rubber legs.  That’s when he and Finley’s father, Jeff Collins, started laughing.

Mushu, named after the little dragon in Disney’s animated movie Mulan, had eaten a toy rubber lizard and it had passed all the way through the bearded dragon’s intestinal tract.

Rossi wasn’t too surprised, as he says bearded dragons often swallow odd things, such as suction cups and coins.  Still, this was the first rubber lizard he’d ever “delivered.”

This begs the question, what is the strangest thing your pet has ever eaten (and passed)?

September 20th, 2007 by jjdavis in Bearded Dragons,News | Comments Off on Bearded Dragon Gives Birth To Toy Lizard

The Lizard Pool

If you want to see wonderful pictures of lizards from all around the world, visit The Lizard Pool on Flickr. As a photographer myself, I’m humbled and amazed by the beautiful and fun images from these globe-spanning artists. At the time of this writing there are over 1300 photos from 449 photographers. Some are so good you’d expect to see them in National Geographic.

With any luck, I’ll be adding to the photos myself. For the first time in years I plan take my camera out lizard hunting today.

March 10th, 2007 by jjdavis in Reviews | Comments Off on The Lizard Pool

Lizard Looping and Anoles

I have this video of me, standing in the patio of the Dallas apartment with my older daughter, and a little American Chameleon (Anolis carolinis) has hold of my finger in his tiny mouth and will not let go. No matter which way I turn my hand, that little guy is hanging on, biting as hard as he can, probably with the intention of eating me before I can eat him. Of course it didn’t hurt – it was barely a pinch – and Danielle and I were laughing about it.

I had not realized there were Anoles in Dallas, and it was a pleasant surprise. You see, back when I was a lizard hunting kid in California, the only place you’d see these exotic little color changers were in pet stores, and in advertisements in the back of Boy’s Life Magazine. Back then, my friends and I would all pool our money together and send away for them. I even remember the name of the company: The Louisiana Biological Center. I’d send them money, and then we’d wait … and wait … and wait for them to come in the mail.

Yes, the mail.

They’d arrive in a cardboard tube with cheesecloth at both ends. We’d order 12, but they’d send 15, just in case some died on the way. Open it up, dump it into a terrarium, and out would come 15 hopping lizards along with a bunch of moss and sometimes a sponge. We’d divvy them up and most wouldn’t survive more than a month or so. I had some that survived years, but eventually I’d let them go, which wasn’t as nice as it seems since they don’t live very well in Northern California. Too dry a climate.

The first time I’d actually caught one outside a postage container was during a trip to Hawaii. It pretty much ruined my Hawaiian trip because I then became obsessed with finding more of them. Ah, wasted youth.

So, as a father in North Dallas, and finding Anoles running wild in the suburbs, I took my kids lizard hunting on the trails along the local creek. Because of the lizard’s ability to jump into bushes and disappear, you can’t use the sneak-around-and-grab method which works with bluebellies in California. No, you have to go “lizard looping.” That is, you put a little loop of string in a slip-knot at the end of a stick (a fishing pole works perfectly) and, upon seeing a lizard, you reach out with this stick and put the loop around its head.

The lizard, you see, usually pays no attention to the stick or the loop, because it’s too busy watching the big monster creeping up on it (you). It doesn’t associate the stick with something you’re controlling. It just thinks it’s a branch, one of many surrounding it, and the loop is just like a blade of grass. That is, until the loop is around the lizard’s neck and you give it a little pop, closing the loop firmly around the neck and trapping it.

The last time I remember doing this, we caught several of them along the creek, and then riding our bicycles back toward the apartment complex my kids and I spotted a anole out on the pavement. It was rather odd, and so I rode slowly up to it and – swear to God, I have my kids as witnesses – the lizard jumped onto my pant leg and climbed up on me, and so I rode off with it clinging to my back. It stayed on me all the way home, and to this day it remains the one lizard that caught me instead of me catching it.

My opinion is that it’s okay to catch and keep common native lizards, especially if you catch them in your own neighborhood, and when you’re finally bored with them (or realized you just don’t have the patience to feed them several times a day) you can let them go again right outside and they’ll do just fine.

The odd thing is, anoles were everywhere in Dallas, a suburban area, but now that I live up in McKinney which is rural and right next to open woods, there’s none. In fact, I’ve been here years now and I only recently saw my first lizard, a small red-tailed skink, while walking through the woods.

From Tales of the Lizard Hunter
By Jerry J. Davis

March 3rd, 2007 by jjdavis in Anoles | Comments Off on Lizard Looping and Anoles

Why Bluebellies Have Blue Bellies

Out of all the reptiles I’ve caught and studied as a budding young Herpetologist, these wonderful little blue-bellied lizards were the hardiest and ultimately the most fascinating. Found nearly everywhere in California (with variations across most of North America) these rough-scaled, fast, nimble lizards get their name from brilliant patterns of blue on their relatively soft, smooth stomachs. I’d been catching them for years before I finally realized what the blue on their bellies was for. It was obvious in retrospect, but at the time it was a big revelation.

After being uprooted twice, once from my desert home of Tucson, and then from the crowded, foggy cityscape of the bay area, my family finally settled in Stockton which is right in the middle of California’s central valley. I was about nine or so, and the first thing I did in this new place was to search out the local critters. The bluebelly was the first reptile I discovered, and the first Californian lizard I caught and kept. So you could say that these lizards were my first boyhood friends after the move.

The official name for the bluebelly is the Western Fence Swift (Sceloporus occidentalis). I checked out piles of books from the library, reading all I could about them. Then I begged and pleaded for a terrarium so that I had something decent to keep them in.

Females are generally more brown and colorless, and have a wider lower stomach. They have little, if any, blue on their bellies. The more feminine the female, the less blue. Conversely, the more macho the male, the more blue and black are on their bellies. Some are so heavily colored that they’re actually gaudy. This should have clued me in on the real use of these decorations, but it never even occurred to me.

Keeping one or two at a time was okay, but I had to develop a lot of patience to actually see them do anything. I had my terrarium set beside my bed, and I would spend literally hours just lying there and watching. Then I would dump in some food, usually flies and crickets but occasionally some mealworms, and they would chow down and then settle again. Most people would consider them boring to watch, because when they know you’re there they don’t move a lot. They remain clinging to logs or sticks pretending they’re invisible. Which in some cases they are, because their camouflage can be close to perfect when sitting on a log.

What I discovered later on, though, is you get a lot more entertainment value when you have four or five really macho males in the terrarium, and one or two full-grown females. Have them under a comfortable heat lamp (not too hot!) and give them plenty of food and water. Give them a bit of time to get used to their surroundings.

Then settle down and watch the fun.

I had never seen bluebellies go into full battle mode before. Normally they just nod their heads at each other, but when two or more challengers face off it becomes an all-out contest of intimidation. What they do is hilarious. They flatten themselves out vertically, so that their back is arched and their belly is pushed way down, which makes them appear physically larger. When their bellies are extended vertically like this, the blue can plainly be seen. That’s what it’s for. It’s to say two things:

To females: “Hey babe, wanna party?”

To other males: “Don’t you even think of messing with me!”

They leap, skitter sideways, push and shove, and occasionally snap at their opponent’s tail. It happens all over the terrarium, very fast, and sand and gravel goes flying. The other lizards are caught between being interested and getting out of the way. I had one stubborn old male who had no intention of getting involved, and remained where he was, eyes closed in annoyance, even as the other two repeatedly ran him over.

The mating dance is very similar, but it includes a lot more rapid head nodding while the female (generally) wants to be somewhere else.

Since these were wild animals, I never kept them for very long. I would routinely let them go where I’d caught them, and more often than not I’d end up catching them again later. I’d check them for ticks, apply medicine when needed, keep them for a while and then let them go again. Some I would let go in the wood pile in the back yard, and be tickled to later see tiny little babies running around. These would grow up and start another generation in the wood pile. I kept this up for years.

I never really grew out of Herpetology, and I’m amazed about how popular it’s gotten (and how much more sophisticated the amateur Herpetologists have become). I’m not actively hunting anymore, because I had a bad experience: About ten years ago I was in Houston and was amazed to find Mediterranean geckos running around the walls of the hotel at night. I was trying to coax one out of a crack with a stick when a man came barging out and accused me of trying to break into his daughter’s room. When I explained to him what I was doing I felt incredibly stupid. So now if I don’t have one of my kids with me, I’m not hunting lizards.

Supposedly there’s bluebellies out here in Texas but I haven’t seen one yet. Lots of Anoles, which are interesting lizards too, but no bluebellies. And you know, I really miss them.

From Tales of the Lizard Hunter
By Jerry J. Davis

March 1st, 2007 by jjdavis in Bluebellies | Comments Off on Why Bluebellies Have Blue Bellies

Bucket ‘O’ Toads

Summer nights in a small suburb of Tucson, Arizona, way back in 1967, out of my house would stalk a mighty hunter. Six years old, wearing shorts and a tee shirt, high-top tennis shoes, and carrying a flashlight, a bucket, and a butterfly net, I stalked off through the streets in search of prey. It was toads I was after, big ugly warty toads. And they were out there, hundreds of them, hopping from out of the desert and through the neighborhood, all answering Mother Nature’s annual call of love.

During the day the only time you would see one of these puffy, awkward creatures was on the road, smashed flat as a pancake. You’d see a lot of them, everywhere, rows of them where cars would score more than one at a time. It was disgusting. Of course as a young boy I was fascinated by that, too.

But at night they were big, round, and alive. Not quite frogs, and not quite lizards, these toads had short legs and didn’t jump as their froggy cousins did. No, they hopped. Quick, furtive, nimble little hops. Like this: Hop hop hop hop hop!

Being a born Herpetologist (even though back then I couldn’t even pronounce it, let alone know what it meant) I didn’t find these creatures at all ugly. They were adorable! I liked their weird bumpy skin, their gleaming eyes, and their humble just-leave-me-alone body language. To dogs, I knew, they were deadly poison. I remember at least once my dad sticking a running garden hose down my poor dog’s throat after catching him chewing on a toad. There was poison in those bumps, and if you broke them it would come out and kill you. That is, if you happen to be chewing on it. Being that I had no intention of doing that (and this being a long time before people found they could get high by licking them) I knew I was safe.

I remember walking along the sidewalks, catching them in my net and dumping them into my bucket. I also remember dodging tarantulas and other assorted big bugs. One was a long beetle with huge pinchers in front, and if you picked these up and got them mad they’d hiss at you. I also remember some of my friends out under a streetlight with their father’s fly fishing pole, whipping the fly around in the air and catching bats (who thought the fly lure was a moth, no doubt). But mainly I caught toads. Dozens of them. Literally, dozens, all piled up and hopping in a mass at the bottom of the bucket.

Then I’d bring the bucket of toads home and put them in the backyard. One time my sister Cara was curious as to what exactly was in this bucket I kept bringing in at night, and looked down into it as it sat on the concrete of the back patio. I can still hear her piercing scream. “My God!” she shrieked. “That bucket is full of toads!” By the hysterical tone of her voice, it was like she’d found a bucket full of severed human heads. She did a frightened dance on her tiptoes and escaped into the house, complaining loudly about the Bucket ‘O’ Toads.

More than thirty years later, I still find this highly amusing.

I remember one time I was out later than my curfew. I was late and I knew it. I don’t remember why I was late; there must have been something extra interesting, because it was a conscious decision not to leave just yet. Then when I arrived home and my father said I was late and that meant a spanking, I voluntarily submitted, putting myself over his knee and telling him I was ready. That made him laugh; he thought it was hilarious. But the spanking still hurt.

Since being a 6 year old toad hunter I’ve learned that I was right about the creatures. They really aren’t hideous little monsters. In fact, they’re a boon to us because of the hundreds of tons of bugs they eat every year, including cockroaches. That’s hundreds of tons of bugs that would otherwise be crawling around our homes.

Yes, this toad hunter has retired his net and bucket, but every once in a while I’ll happen upon one of these little guys, and I’ll pick it up and say hello. They’re welcome around my house. That is, as long as they stay outside.

From Tales of the Lizard Hunter
By Jerry J. Davis

February 28th, 2007 by jjdavis in Amphibians | Comments Off on Bucket ‘O’ Toads

The Snake Pretending to be a Stick

Out lizard hunting one morning I saw a pair of very fast, thin snakes which crossed the dirt road in front of me, side by side, their heads held high off the ground. The two looked like a team, and this sent a thrill through me. I’d never seen snakes do this before. Their movements and attitude denoted high intelligence, and they looked somehow professional, like pack hunters.

All the snakes I was familiar with were loners and they kept low to the ground, moving in the traditional slithering way of snakes. In contrast, these two held themselves up like cobras, and even when they crossed over into the tall grass I could see their little black heads darting back and forth, very alert. They saw me coming after them and zoomed quickly to a nearby tree.

There was nothing slow about these snakes. It didn’t take them more than a few seconds to slide right up that tree and into the branches. Then they did something really interesting: they froze.

The only reason I could see them in the tree is because I’d watched them climb. To anyone else they’d be invisible. Their bodies were telling the world, “We’re tree limbs! There’s nothing interesting here. Go about your business.” Even as I approached the tree they maintained this façade. Even as I began to climb.

There was one snake lower than the other, and so I moved carefully toward that one. It was thin and dark, and there were no obvious poison sacks on its head. I had an idea of what kind of snakes they were, but didn’t know for sure. I thought it was funny that it was going to stay there and let me grab it. I kept expecting it to shoot away. Lord knows that, on the ground, I would never have been able to catch it.

Okay, I thought. Here goes nothing.

I reached out and grabbed it as close to the head as I could, which wasn’t nearly close enough. The moment I touched it, the snake whipped its head around and bit me. It locked its jaws about four inches above my left wrist, and it hurt. I didn’t let go, but I was holding on to tree limbs with the other hand and couldn’t do anything about the snake. I had to climb down the tree one handed, even as blood began streaming down my arm and dripping from my elbow. I kept wondering if I was wrong – wondering if this was a poisonous species after all.

I slowly, carefully, made my way down the tree. Once on the ground I was able to grab the snake’s head and pull it off my arm. Instead of the fang marks I feared, there was a neat, elongated oval of bloody holes. Then I saw the snake’s teeth, which were long and curved. Up until that point I’d never seen teeth like that on a snake, ever.

It began whipping violently, trying to get loose, but I managed to slip it into my specimen bag and close it tight. It made a real ruckus inside that bag. Its partner, still up in the tree, had climbed all the way to the top and was pretending to be a stick again … but it was watching me.

I was a long way from the boat, so I stopped at a clear stream and rinsed my arm until it stopped bleeding, then began my long trek back. It was noon when I finally reached the boat. My mom applied bandages to my arm and both she and Dad kept asking me if I was sure it wasn’t poisonous. I was sure, because by then I had already looked it up in my field guide.

The snake was called a Racer (Coluber constrictor), and was described as arboreal and its main diet consisted of birds. This explained why it would pretend to be a stick, and also why it had such large curved teeth. These snakes sit in the trees waiting for birds to land, and before the birds know what’s happening they’ve become lunch.

Later I let this snake go back in the area where I’d caught it, hoping it would find its hunting partner. I thought perhaps they were a mated pair. Nowhere in any of the field guides did it mention these snakes staying together in pairs or groups. I may have witnessed a fluke, or some behavior no one had ever seen before.

That was one cool snake, but one I’d advise people to leave alone. If I look really close at my arm, I can still make out the scars from that bite.

From Tales of the Lizard Hunter
By Jerry J. Davis

February 27th, 2007 by jjdavis in Snakes | Comments Off on The Snake Pretending to be a Stick

The Snapping Turtle

One of the things they have in Texas that we didn’t have out in California are box turtles. During certain times of the year, when these turtles are feeling the call of nature and plodding about looking for love, they tend to wander onto highways with disastrous results. One of my in-laws at the time who lived up in Oklahoma, knowing about my affinity with reptiles, stopped on a highway and rescued one of these turtles and brought it down for me.

It turned out to be a female and we named her Shelly. She lived in a large 50 gallon plastic tub, and became quite the pet. For some reason the turtle really liked my ex-wife Becky, and would follow her around the house, which is how she became attached to it.

Since we liked Shelly so much, we ended up with another one, a boy who we called Fred. Then, about a year or so later, in-laws made another delivery … that of a whole slew of young ones, our favorite of which we named “R.B.” (which stood for “road bump”). Needless to say we as a family became adept at taking care of turtles and keeping them healthy, and our kids were very fond of these creatures.

Then one day my younger daughter, then only 6 or so years old, came in to tell us she found a great big turtle out in the playground. I was thinking, “Oh no, not another box turtle.” We already had too many!

I was not prepared for the monster which awaited me out back in the playground. This was a full blown, genuine, meaner-than-mean Snapping Turtle which had wandered up from the creek. I had read about snappers but had never actually seen one in person. Tell you what, it looked like Godzilla with a shell. I kid you not! It literally reminded me more of a lizard than a turtle.

It had a big, long tail, long legs, and a long snake-like neck with the infamous snapping jaw. Not a turtle to fold itself into its shell – it was so mean, nasty, and tough, it wouldn’t need to.

I got my video camera out, and actually have footage of it chasing me. Dangling the camera strap down at it, it would snap at it with such lightning speed that it startled me and I fell right off my feet. The neighborhood kids laughed hysterically, including my own, as I scrambled around the thing while it nipped at my toes.

Finally, using badminton rackets, we managed to herd it into a big plastic storage box, and I drove it down to the local creek and dumped it back in. I was so glad Jessie had come to tell me about it instead of trying to pick it up, like it were one of our little box turtles. It definitely would have bitten off one of her fingers!

From Tales of the Lizard Hunter
By Jerry J. Davis

February 24th, 2007 by jjdavis in Turtles & Tortoises | Comments Off on The Snapping Turtle

Project Sublizard

In the summer between 6th and 7th grade, my friends and I had formed a science club. I think we called it the “California Science Association” or something like that. It sounded very official and looked good on a letterhead, and we were able to get a lot of free scientific samples and hardware by writing letters to places like Edmund Scientific. They thought we were adults or at least college students.

One of the experiments we did was called “Project Sublizard.” I did a whole paper on it with drawings and everything. Yes, it sounds funny, and thinking back on it I find it even funnier because I was completely serious.

Project Sublizard consisted of a gallon wine jug made of clear glass, two straps, four bricks, some sand, a long strand of aquarium tubing and an aquarium aerator pump. I put sand, some succulent plants, and a bluebelly lizard in the wine bottle, strapped it to the bricks, and sunk it down to the bottom of my father’s swimming pool (about 10 feet down). The aerator pumped a constant stream of air through the tubing down to Project Sublizard, providing positive pressure and a constant source of fresh oxygen. Also we found we could catch flies and put them into the tubing, and the aerator pump would send them down to Project Sublizard special delivery, like a vacuum tube at a bank. Actually this part was so fun that this was one of my most well-fed lizards.

The lizard thrived down at the bottom of the pool for about six weeks. When it was over I let it go, and it didn’t seem to have suffered any side effects. What did we hope to prove? I have no idea.

It was just fun.

Another thing we did that summer was find a nice little sandy beach down one of the local creeks. This was about two miles down from anywhere, right in the middle of farm land, and it was big enough for 4 of us to spread out blankets and sunbathe. It was a sandbar formed by a flash flood sometime in the past. It was neat.

So being the junior geeks we were, we dubbed this as our biological research center. All my test tubes, sample collection jars, what-have-you went into an old metal ice chest that we buried in the sand where we could get to it easily. Sometimes my mom would drive us out and we’d spend the day there, wading up and down the stream catching baby catfish, pollywogs, and salamanders … anything we could find. When Mom came back and honked, we would stow all our equipment into the ice chest and seal it shut (it was very waterproof), and brush sand over the lid so that it wasn’t visible. The next day we’d come back, uncover the lid and open it up again.

Little did I know that these were my last days of childhood. These were the very last carefree days. When summer ended and we were all going into our first year of Junior High, suddenly everything was different. One of the members of our science club, my good friend Mel, wouldn’t admit in public to being involved in any of this. He was hanging out with a group of stoners, and being seen with a geek like me was embarrassing.

My other friends went into drama or music, or both. Science was not a cool thing to be involved in. It wasn’t long after that when I abandoned science as well, having discovered photography and girls (not necessarily in that order).

The next year, in mid-winter, I went down to our biological research center to see if I could retrieve the stuff. At the very least I wanted to get the ice chest back for my father (they’d had it since the early 60’s). To my dismay I found someone had run a bulldozer down the middle of the creek, destroying it completely. I guess the water wasn’t flowing fast enough. As I was walking along, feeling sad for our lost days out there, I spotted the crushed and mangled ice chest. Remarkably one of my biological field guides was still in it, and was still in good condition.

It wasn’t a total loss, but it felt like it. It was hard to let that part of my childhood go. But the future held exciting things, and so I moved forward. Have I looked back since? Occasionally. I don’t think I’ll be building any more biological research centers, but if I ever get another swimming pool…

Project Sublizard 2.0!

From Tales of the Lizard Hunter
By Jerry J. Davis

February 22nd, 2007 by jjdavis in Bluebellies | Comments Off on Project Sublizard

Life as a Desert Rat

Across the street from my childhood home was open desert, and when I was about 8 years old and was feeling the freedom of my first bicycle, my friends and I would go out and ride for miles down dirt roads that crisscrossed through the cactus and brush. We explored ruins of adobe buildings where we found old coins and bayonets, and played in arroyos where fossils were routinely sticking out of the sandstone walls. This is where I found my first clam shell, out in the middle of the desert. Of course, the clam shell was solid rock and hundreds of millions of years old.

The funny thing was, we didn’t care much about any of these wonders. We were looking for lizards.

Horny Toads where my favorites, but they were elusive and hard to come by. Spiny Lizards were nearly impossible to catch unless you climbed a telephone pole or a cactus to get to them. There were “whiptails,” which were really fast and had forked tongues like snakes. There was an occasional Chuckwalla or Desert Iguana (those were some big lizards, especially to an 8-year-old) but they were rarely seen, and probably would have bitten off our fingers had we tried to catch them. I never did see one of those poisonous Gila Monsters, though one time I caught a very colorful small lizard and later found it could have been a baby Gila Monster – but I’ll never know.

Every once in a while we would run across the most beautiful lizard I’d ever seen. You’d have to find it by turning over big boards or rocks, where you were more likely to find a nine-inch scorpion. But every once in a while there would be this brightly colored flash and we’d grab – and grab carefully – because the tail would easily come off and that would “ruin” the lizard. This amazing, beautiful little lizard was called the Tucson Banded Gecko, a subspecies of the Western Banded Gecko. We just called them geckos. They were yellow and brown, very soft, had large expressive eyes (the only gecko I know of that has eyelids), and a bulbous, fat tail. My other 8-year-old friends and I all agreed this was a “cool lizard.”

In addition to lizards, we ran across the occasional snake. Out there in the desert, half the snakes we ran into were poisonous, and I’d seen more than my share of sidewinders. Thankfully I had enough sense as a child to just leave them alone. But one time, when we were out riding in the early morning, there was this amazingly large snake stretched all the way across the dirt road. I mean, all the way across. We had an older kid with us (the brother of one of my friends) and he knew what it was. He called it a “bull snake” which is a big cousin of the harmless gopher snake. It looked like a rattler to us, but he picked it up and showed us the tail and the head. There was no rattle, and the head was narrow, proving it wasn’t poisonous. The darn thing was 8 feet long if not longer, and it just let us pick it up without even a struggle. We unanimously decided this snake must go home with us, and the big brother looped it around his neck and we rode back.

Well, his mother freaked out and he couldn’t keep it, so with great ceremony he gave it to me. It was so cool I just couldn’t believe it. Here was a snake that was bigger than I was tall, all looped around my neck and arms like a … well, a snake. It was just too groovy. [Remember, this was the 60’s. The words of the day were “groovy,” “boss,” and “far out.”] So I brought it in my house and, not knowing where to keep it, I put it in the guest bath which was the third bathroom Mom wouldn’t let us use because it was “for guests.”

I, uh … neglected to tell anyone about it, though. I knew if I told my mom, she wouldn’t let me keep it, just like the other guy’s mom wouldn’t let him keep it. I figured no one ever used that bathroom so no one would ever find it.

I was wrong. Less than an hour later I heard my mother’s hysterical voice calling out for my dad. “Jiiiiiimmmiiieeeee!” she was shouting, her voice quavering so that I knew she was jumping up and down. “Jimmmmiieeeeeee!!!!

I hid under my bed and prepared for the worst. I heard my father shout, “Oh my God!” And then, “How in the Hell did that get in there!” Only a few seconds later he called out my name. I still have no idea how they figured it out so fast.

Fortunately my father found it too funny to spank me for, but I had to go let the snake loose out where we’d found it. My big brother drove me out there in his sand buggy. He, too, thought it was pretty funny, but he didn’t tell me that until years later. It was the last snake I brought home until after we moved to California.

One thing I did bring home that the whole family did think was wonderful was a young roadrunner. I saw it down in an arroyo when we were playing with toy cars in the sand, and chased it into a section of the arroyo where it was trapped. It tried to hide behind a big piece of plywood, ducking down and pretending to be a weed. I grabbed it, and it bit me, but I wouldn’t let it go. This was a roadrunner, just like on the cartoon, and I had to show my family. So I carried it all the way home and let it go in the back yard.

My mom had a real way with birds, and it wasn’t more than a day before she had it eating out of her hands. The problem was, it liked bugs. So she was constantly sending me out to catch grasshoppers, and that silly roadrunner would squawk and flap its wings and hold its mouth wide open. My parents would laugh hysterically at it, and feed the thing, and then send me out to catch more bugs.

I quickly got tired of catching bugs for the silly bird, and the bird got hungry one day and decided to try and catch its own bugs. Unfortunately, the bug it was trying to catch was in the swimming pool, and the roadrunner was later found floating face down in the pool, drowned. My mother cried, and then scolded me for bringing it home in the first place.

It wasn’t long after that when a friend and I caught a jack rabbit. We were lifting over boards and rocks looking for geckos, and under one big board was the rabbit. My friend dived across the board, trapping it while I reached under and grabbed fur. It came out kicking, and the claws on its hind feet scratched the hell out of my arm. I quickly dropped it into the pillow case we’d brought along (it was the best thing for keeping lizards in out in the field) and it thrashed around inside but couldn’t get out. My friend and I looked at each other and shouted in pure glee. A jack rabbit! How cool was that? No one we knew had ever caught a jack rabbit before!

I promptly took it home and, once inside the house, called my mom and dad. “Mom! Dad! Look what I caught! Look at this!” And I dumped the jack rabbit out of the bag and onto the carpet. I don’t even think my parents got a chance to see it, it was a brown blur that launched itself toward the couch and dived underneath. Oh, but my dog Pepper saw it, though! Boy did he! The chase was on, all around the house at full speed, right over furniture and across tables and under anything and into every room. They knocked over lamps and crashed into doors and pulled curtains off their rods. My mom was yelling and my dad was laughing, and Pepper was barking. I didn’t know what to do.

Mom took matters into her own hands and opened the front door. The rabbit must have come close to breaking the sound barrier going through that doorway. Pepper tried to follow, but only got to the other side of the street before he stopped, panting like mad, knowing the fun was over. But he turned and looked at me, and I swear I could understand the look on his face. He was saying, “That was great! Can we do that again?”

Not long after that we moved to California, and my days of being a desert rat were over. I’ve been back there since, right in that very neighborhood, but the open desert I had explored as a child is now full of convenience stores, supermarkets, and ever-expanding neighborhoods. I wanted to show it all to my kids, but they just didn’t get it. After thirty years the neighborhood looked like a dump and the desert was full of trash.

And I couldn’t find a single horny toad.

February 21st, 2007 by jjdavis in Geckos,Horny Toads,Snakes | Comments Off on Life as a Desert Rat

The Lizard That Almost Killed a Kid

I remember “spiny lizards” from my childhood as these huge scaly lizards as long as my arm that took two hands to hold. For young lizard hunters in my Tucson, Arizona neighborhood, these were the big game trophies. I caught one once, but don’t remember the details. I just remember holding it squirming in my hands and being in awe of its size. The lizards I was used to holding were barely bigger than my hand. I was six, maybe seven years old at the time.

One nearly killed a kid. Not directly, but as a result of the kid trying to catch it. I don’t remember the kid’s name, so I’ll just call him “Joe.”

Spiny lizards are arboreal, which means they spend most of their time climbing up and down trees. In our neighborhood there were a lot of trees, but out in the desert itself – which was right across the street from us – there were mainly tall, green saguaros cactus and telephone poles. Yes, telephone poles. Spiny lizards seemed to be drawn to them for some reason, and when walking out in the desert and passing a telephone pole there was a good chance a spiny would race across the ground and go scuttling up one, keeping the pole between you and it.

I guess Joe saw an extra attractive specimen one summer afternoon on a telephone pole down the block, and determined to catch it he began scaling the pole itself. I remember looking down the street and seeing him climbing that pole, and knew instantly what he was after. He was holding tightly with arms and legs, slowly making his way straight up. The lizard, sensing pursuit, continued further toward the top. Joe was an older kid, and two of his friends were down on the ground yelling up encouragements. I hung back because one of the kids was a bully and I was afraid of him.

The spiny was panicking, you could tell by the way it kept going around the pole several feet above him. Its defense was to stay hidden on the opposite side of the pole from a predator, but this predator was on all sides of the pole and was slowly making its way up. The lizard knew it could only go so far, and knew it was trapped. It went to the top and couldn’t go any further, and didn’t seem to like being at the top either, because it kept coming back down and skittering to and fro around the pole. Joe, sensing victory, continued bravely upward despite him being a good 30 feet off the ground.

Remember, we were all just kids. We didn’t know anything about electricity. I don’t think anyone had bothered to tell us not to climb telephone poles, especially ones which were shared by power lines.

Joe was trying to get past some of the cables and he touched one, or touched something that was touching one. His whole body vibrated and he was slamming his face repeatedly – and rapidly – into the wood of the pole. I didn’t know what was happening and remember thinking how funny it looked. Then mercifully he broke contact with the current and started sliding down the pole, his body rigid, in a kind of jerking fashion. About ten feet above the ground his arms and legs gave out and he dropped and landed flat on his back on the hard desert dirt.

Joe didn’t get up. He was just lying there on his back. His friends dithered for a moment, then one ran to get an adult. About ten minutes later there was a crowd of people and an ambulance came – the first one I’d ever seen – and they hustled him off to the hospital.

Joe was lucky, because he lived. He didn’t have any broken bones or anything. The lizard got away. Triggered by this event, my parents lectured me on the dangers of climbing telephone poles.

I was in my late 30’s when I finally caught my second spiny lizard. It was out in Texas, and my older daughter and I were in a North Dallas park when I spotted one on a tree. It didn’t move, convinced it was invisible because of its camouflage. I circled around to the other side of the tree, and had my daughter tell me how far it was from the ground. Then in a lightning move I reached blindly around the tree and grabbed. Got it first try.

They’re not as big as I remember, of course, but they’re a lot bigger than their little cousins (the common “blue-belly” or Western Fence Swift) which my kids were used to from California. It was a female, and very lively. We kept if for a day or so and then let it go.

From Tales of the Lizard Hunter
By Jerry J. Davis

February 20th, 2007 by jjdavis in Spiny Lizards | Comments Off on The Lizard That Almost Killed a Kid

Tiny Dinosaurs that Squirt Blood

I think I was about six years old when I began catching things called horny toads. Actually they’re lizards, not toads, and I what attracted me to them is they look like miniature dinosaurs. Unlike regular lizards, these have a round pancake-like body, and out the back of their heads sprouts a crown of horns. Their scaly, thorny skin has a mottled white and brown coloration, which makes them blend in with desert soil, and they have a big, soft white belly that’s speckled with tiny dots of black. All around the edge of their belly is a serrated row of soft little spikes, like a wiggly saw blade.

The most unusual thing about them is that they will squirt blood at you out of their eyes. This is absolutely true. I remember the first time this happened, when I was catching a big one that was probably an alpha male. He struggled mightily in my little kid hands, and when he couldn’t get loose (and I suppose he figured I was about to eat him) he folded his eyes back and ejected two jets of stinky red blood. It startled me and I dropped him, and he played dead for a minute or two while I wiped the blood off onto my pant legs. Then he blinked a few times to clear the blood away, and ran off. When I caught him again he did the same thing, but a lot less blood came out, and this time I didn’t let him go.

Years later, in a junior high biology class, a teacher was telling the class that horny toads squirting blood from their eyes was a myth, and I raised my hand and told him that, no, it wasn’t, that I’d seen it several times. He was skeptical even after I told him the story, and finally I had to show him a passage about it from the Peterson’s Field Guide to Western Reptiles and Amphibians. I remember his only comment was, “I’ll be damned.”

I’ve always wanted to show my kids a real, live horny toad, but they’re pretty much extinct now except in isolates spots, and by the time I have grandkids they’ll probably have gone the way of their big cousins, the dinosaur.

From Tales of the Lizard Hunter
By Jerry J. Davis

February 20th, 2007 by jjdavis in Horny Toads | Comments Off on Tiny Dinosaurs that Squirt Blood

Hello! Welcome!

Hey, you’re here just in time to read my very first post!

I’m a writer and photographer, not a Herpetologist, though I wanted to be a Herpetologist when I was a teen. My hero was Dr. Robert C. Stebbins, author of A Field Guide to Western Reptiles and Amphibians. That was my bible. I still have a copy of it around here, somewhere.

The sad thing about that field guide is the maps showing the areas where you could catch the various species. If you compare those original maps to ones made today … you get a sense of doom. These animals are disappearing, and when you’re like me, someone who actually went out and caught and handled them, it really hits home.

I’m going to start out this website by posting a lot of things I’ve already written over the years, items from my as yet unfinished book Tales of the Lizard Hunter. They’re a bit long winded but I hope you enjoy them anyway. If nothing else, they’re full of enthusiasm. 🙂

The pictures you see at the top, to the side, and at the bottom, are all mine. On the masthead is a common central California bluebelly (Sceloporus occidentalis) and the other two are Mediterranean Geckos I found crawling around my old house in Plano, Texas.

I have grand plans for this place! Please bookmark this site and come back from time to time.

Thanks for reading and welcome to!

February 20th, 2007 by jjdavis in Announcements | Comments Off on Hello! Welcome!

The living iguanas will come and bite the men who do not dream...

lizards geckos horny toads iguangas bluebelly