The Irony of the House Lizard

from wikimedia commons 

I’ve interacted with an interesting slew of animals as a naturalist and aquarist.  Giant Pacific octopus?  Check.  Seahorses, seadragons, urchins, horseshoe crabs, cat sharks?  Check.  Stingrays, dolphins, snakes, scorpions, kookaburras, red-tailed hawks?  Check.  Macaws, African gray parrots, eels, venomous fish, and an assortment of turtles?  Check.  A sea turtle?  Check.  Penguins of several species?  Check. 

Have you noticed yet what’s missing from this list?  Spiders!  Ever since I was a little girl I have been paranoid around spiders with no reasonable explanation.  Its a definite phobia.  I’ve shunned classroom tarantulas all my life and will probably continue to do so.  Interestingly, I’m a-okay with handling spider crabs. 

But what’s that got to do with house lizards?  Like most kids who grew up in the sunshine state, I hunted house lizards (also known as anoles) and got a certain sort of somewhat sadistic satisfaction from pulling their tails off. 

Yes, their tails come off!  Its a neat adaptation – called autotomy – that lets them escape from predators and humans masquerading as predators.  And I didn’t exactly pull the tails off by force.  Anoles have breakpoints along the tail vertebrae that make it possible for the muscles within the tail to literally break itself! 

I’m a reformed lizard hunter these days… unfortunately.  The irony of the house lizards in Florida is that, on ocassion, they literally become house lizards.  At the moment I have two baby anoles running around my apartment and I am essentially powerless to capture the little things.  Every time I get close I become squeamish and have to abandon the attempt. 

Its rather ridiculous.  I can take a bite from a kookaburra in front of a room full of children without any sign of distress but I can’t pick up a teensy little anole.  I’m almost embarassed but I’ve been telling visitors that the duo is helping me keep ants at bay.  And in fact I have actually seen their lightning quick strikes on unsuspecting ants.  They’re hardly two inches long and already rather adept predators.

I should really use my huge human brain to design an anole trap.  Hmm.

Anoles in the state of Florida are actually an interesting conservation topic.  The house lizards I hunted as a kid in the mid-1980’s were phosphorescent green and gorgeous.  Anolis carolinensis is the only anole native to the US.  These days you can easily find Cuban and brown anoles hunting ants outside of Florida homes.  Its not terribly clear how introductions occurred but the Cubans are slowly displacing the true green anoles, not unlike the slow displacement of native green tree frogs by Cuban tree frogs here in the south.  In fact green anoles are so uncommon around Orlando that when I do see one it becomes a memorable moment.