North America’s most beautiful lizard
July 10, 2009 42 Comments
Whew! My fingers and keyboard are still smoking after that long series on Cylindera celeripes (parts 1, 2, and 3). Exciting as my celeripes finds were, there were other “tiger beetle moments” from the Oklahoma trip as well that I want to highlight in future posts. However, I thought I’d give everyone a break from tiger beetles (and my rambling prose) and remind everyone that I can not only talk about other insects, but even non-insects.
Isn’t he a looker?! I came upon this this male eastern collared lizard (Crotaphytus collaris collaris) during my first day at Four Canyon Preserve – fitting, since the species is Oklahoma’s state reptile (a fine choice, unlike their dreadfully pedestrian choice for state insect – the honey bee! Huh? It’s not even native!). When I first saw this fellow he skirted under a branch, then across the trail, under a ledge, up and over to another rock… By the time I got him accustomed to my persistent approaches (remember, I stalk tiger beetles!) he was posing nicely at chest level and with the sun behind my shoulder for a nice series of photographs. I have never been able to approach a “mountain boomer” this closely before (encountering them only a few times previously on igneous glades in the the St. Francois Mountains of my beloved Ozark Highlands), and the first time I do I have a Canon 50D and 100mm macro lens in my backpack – que suerte!
Perhaps my title is a little presumptuous – surely there are other gorgeous lizards in North America. However, I can’t imagine anything more breathtaking than the vivid blues, greens, and yellows with sharply contrasting black stripes of male eastern collared lizards. Perhaps the gila monster might get a vote, although its impressiveness is more grotesque than beautiful. Horned lizards as well are quite impressive, but again more bizarre than beautiful. Added to the collared lizard’s visual appeal is their comically dinosaurian ability to run swiftly on their hind legs with the fore legs and head held upright (this is how most of my previous attempts to approach them have ended).
The name “mountain boomer” probably originated with the early pioneers, who erroneously believed that they emitted sounds that echoed through the canyons and valleys. An oft-cited theory in field guides (and also the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation and the Missouri Department of Conservation websites) states that the pioneers may have associated the sunning lizards with the barking of frogs. This seems unlikely; frogs that make barking noises are creatures of wetlands – far from the rocky outcroppings of the glades and pinyon-juniper, sagebrush, desertscrub, and desert grassland habitats of the central and west-central U.S. where collared lizards are encountered. Regardless of the source of its nickname, collared lizards in reality make no vocalizations at all (although like most lizards they can hiss when they feel threatened).
Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2009