Archive for the ‘Squamata’ Category

Big, fat five-liner

A big, fat five-lined skink!




The five-lined skink is by far the most common lizard in West Virginia. It’s quite cold tolerant, and I believe it is the only lizard native to New England.

I used to catch these skinks when I was a kid. Unlike the hellhogs, they always bit me, but they are so small they can’t do any damage.

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It’s been a few years since I’ve seen one of these.

It’s an Eastern fence lizard (Sceloporus undulatus), and they are the lizards I used to catch by the score on summer “lizard hunts” with my grandpa.

In West Virginia, the local name for this lizard is “hellhog,” which is only the coolest name for an animal ever.

The lizard appears to be a gravid female looking for a place to lay some eggs.

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lirung monitor

Well, we have a new species of monitor lizard: Varanus lirungensis.

This species was just discovered near the village of Lirung on the island of Salibabu, which is part of the Talaud archipelago, which are between Sualwesi and Mindanao, which is part of the Philippines.

German researchers discovered this new monitor species, and after analyzing its DNA and morphology, published their findings in the Australian Journal of Zoology.

This finding is important because “it highlights the high, but poorly known diversity of monitor lizards in Indonesia. Several species of water monitor have been found on Sulawesi and surrounding islands in recent years.”

Just think of the new monitor species that have yet to be discovered in Indonesia!

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coal skink

Let me clarify some things here: the species isn’t new to science. But it is new to my native habitat.

It’s a northern coal skink. They normally are found in the higher elevations of West Virginia, but this one has found a nice home on a high ridgetop forest in the middle of the Allegheny Plateau.

I first thought it was the more common five-lined skink, but it was the wrong color and lacked the blue tail that is the trademark of that species.

So now we have three species of lizard on the farm, along with five species of snake, two species of turtle, seven species of salamander, and five species of frog.

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A juvenile black rat snake.

The adult looks like this:

black rat snake

I have more analysis here, which is partly based on some guesses I received on Retrieverman.

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baby snake

It was in a light fixture.

It was about 7 or 8 inches long. It was about twice the diameter of a pencil.

It didn’t try to bite.

Can you guess the species?

Leave answers in the comments.

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lazarus lizard

Have you ever heard of a “Lazarus” lizard?

No. They aren’t called that because they rose from the dead. There’s nothing really spectacular about them at all.

In fact, they are rather banal. In Europe, they are common enough to call them “wall lizards.”  They are often seen basking on stone and concrete walls in the summer sun.

However, these particular wall lizards aren’t in Europe at all.

They are found in Southwestern Ohio and Northern Kentucky.

What’s a European lizard doing in the Ohio Valley?

Well, it has something to do with the name “Lazarus lizard.”

Now, I can remember a department store called Lazarus.

The Lazarus family had a number of these stores in the Ohio Valley.

A member of that family was George Rau, who was vacationing in Milan, Italy, where there tons of European wall lizards. He was just a boy, and like many boys, he was deeply fascinated by cold-blooded creatures.

He smuggled about ten of these lizards back to Cincinnati. It turns out that Milan and Cincinnati are both on the edge of the humid subtropical belts, so the Milanese lizards were comfortable living along the Ohio. Further, because they had adapted to living in rocks and walls in Europe, they really liked the urban environment.  Their numbers expanded, and they soon were found on both sides of the Ohio.

Now, the main native lizard of this part of the Ohio Valley is the northen fence lizard. I probably caught 200 of these lizards as a boy. They are in the Iguania suborder, which does include the iguanas. Their behavior is somewhat like a tiny gray iguana, complete with head bobs and push-ups. They are adapted to living in a forested environment, which is why I could catch so many of them in  my West Virginia boyhood days. (I later released hundreds of them into the woodpile behind the home, where a huge colony of these lizards still can be found today. I also added a smaller number of five-lined skinks, which do not thrive when wall lizards invade their habitats.)

Fence lizard.

Fence lizard.

Now, in these parts of Ohio and Kentucky, the wall lizards are quite commone. They have since spread down the Ohio into more westerly parts of Kentucky, and in 2005, one was spotted in adjacent Indiana.

In the Louisville area, these wall lizards have proven to be an ecological hazard. They have driven out native species of lizards and skinks, so Indiana responded by catching them and killing them.

It is very likely that the Lazarus lizard’s range will expand. Ohio has decided not that it can’t kill them off, so it merely controls their numbers. It is likely that the Lazarus lizard will take over most of the Ohio Valley.

I hope it doesn’t make it to West Virginia. I would hate for the Lazarus lizard to arrive at my parents house and invade the woodpile. They would probably drive out the fence lizards and the beautiful five-lined skinks. And that would rob me of something that reminds me of the wonderful times I had as a boy. When I see a fence lizard bobbing on the woodpile or a five-lined skink slink under a crack the eaves, I am taken back to those humid summer days when the days were long and the cares were few.


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