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LIzard's Little House

Thursday, December 9, 2010

We spend a lot of time waiting at the bus stop, which is the end of our driveway. One October day I was idly picking at the place on our enormous pin oak where a chicken-of-the-woods grew out of it two years ago. The huge orange fungus left a big scar on the tree.

I removed a piece of bark just to see what might be behind it. And out tumbled a cold-slowed lizard! For a Science Chimp, it was like hitting a whole row of apples on a slot machine.

It was a juvenile northern fence lizard, Sceloporus undulatus. Probably a female, judging from the pattern of wavy lines running down her back.

In the 19 years we've lived here, I could count the lizard sightings on my fingers and toes. Each summer, we see one or two northern fence lizards, usually right by this tree or scuttling along in the gravel near our garage. The only other lizard spotted here was an enormous male broad-headed skink (!) who turned up in a rotted sill of the garage. It looked like a fat golden kielbasa with a bright orange head. Too big to hold in one hand. Like nothing I'd ever seen before or since. I almost collapsed with excitement. And, but for one juvenile skink (a lovely little thing with orange and black stripes and a blue tail) that's been it for lizards.

Adult male broad-headed skink, Eumeces laticeps. Photo by "Herper" from
I garnered the following from the Web: Broad-headed skinks are often observed hunting insects high in trees. (Well, not by me.) A broad-headed skink was observed shaking a wasp nest to dislodge the pupae to eat, impervious to their stings. Hoo. I'd love to see that. It was a magnificent beast. We're near its northern range limit (southeast PA). 

My dear friend Mary makes the most delightful images of her eastern fence lizards. She even has photos of males, with their brilliant electric-blue throats and chests.
Highly territorial, they do lizard push-ups to display this warning coloration to any interlopers. Go see! Adult males are brown with that hard-to-see electric blue underside; females are gray with wavy lines down their backs.                                  
     Here's Lizard Voyeur Mary's photo of a couple of extra happy eastern fence lizards. Thanks, Mare! Male above--see how much less patterned he is? Unfortunately you can't see his shocking blue underside. I have yet to see that and am really hoping to someday soon.

Back to my dilemma. I felt terrible, of course, about ruining the lizard's little home. So I wedged the bark back into place, replaced the bewildered inhabitant, and raced home for some glue. I had to rebuild it.

photo by Phoebe Linnea Thompson
Elmer's Ultimate High Performance Glue ought to do the trick. It's the kind that expands to fill notches. Ugly but effective. Hope I'm not getting Lizzie too high with the fumes.

I put a branch up against it to hold it while the glue set.

There followed a long cold spell during which I would occasionally dig down through the debris with my pinky to see the top of her head. Good. Still where she wanted to be.

And then came a glorious warm morning and there she was, sunning on the porch of her little glued-up house. Awww.

A couple of months later, the glue is still holding, but she has moved on. Probably moved on up in the same tree, a little higher-rent place, not so...gluey.

Thanks to Mary from Mary's View for allowing the use of her image. As if she had a choice; she was probably deploying her vibrating mascara wand as I wrote this.


I soooo appreciate you mending Lizzie's house. I would have done the same.

If you had asked, I would have sent you one of my favorite Eastern Fence Lizard photos of a couple doing the Humpty Hump.


Broad-heads have a respectable clampnicity when handled carelessly.
Of course a man would have used duct tape.

Mary, I would be honored to post those. Couldn't find them on your blog to steal them.
Floridacracker, you never fail to get a good chuckle out of me. I looked at the masseter muscles on the asplike head of that great sausage of a lizard and decided not to even try to pick him up!
I was afraid duct tape would let loose in the rain. It couldn't have looked a lot worse than gorilla glue.

See now, I love all of you people, and if anyone wants to get close to me, I recommend they unhook and re-hook spiderwebs in the path as they pass through.


I am so-o envious! I would love to see a broad headed skink! The nearest population to me is in Maryland. We get five lines here, but they aren't common.

Thank you for the tidbit about the pushups and it being a way to demonstrate territoriality! I saw lizards with a blue underbelly in Orange County last April and I was very curious as to why they were doing pushups.

I've seen so few wild lizards, I get completely over the top when it happens. Got my first five-lined skink with KatDoc recently. As far as I can tell, we don't have any on the property. But I am willing to build a rock wall, stack a wood pile, whatever they need.
Mary's photos are always fun. She is Nature Stalker.
"fat golden kielbasa"....Now I want kielbasa.

Julie, I am glad that others do some of the stuff that I do. Just put a spicebush swallowtail chrystalis in a box to protect it from the carolina wrens; they've already gotten the other 2 that I knew about. I wish that I had lizards,skinks and worm snakes around here.

What a lovely little lizard.

In all the years I lived in Ohio I never once saw a lizard. I'm jealous. Of course, where I live now in Georgia we have more skinks and anoles than we know what to do with, but still.

You know, Rebecca, it may be a strictly southern tier of Ohio thing. I still stop dead when I see a lizard, because it is just so rare. I feel so blessed to have them at all, however scarce they are. And still cannot believe that we had that one broad-headed skink. 17 years later, still dying to see another.

I don't even bird and have only met one of you in person (Kathi) but I still know about the VM Wand, thanks to the photos from the expedition!

Lizard sex! I'm getting warm fuzzies just thinking about it. Or would it be cold chills for non-mammals...?

What can I say about someone who would glue a lizard bark home back together? There should be more people like that.

Posted by holly-the-person December 9, 2010 at 8:44 PM

Thanks so much for the nature lesson.
Lynda in Michigan

Posted by Anonymous December 10, 2010 at 6:18 AM

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My nine-year-old self would have shrieked with joy to find a little lizard curled up in a stump! We see the juvenile broad-headed skinks a fair bit here in Maryland (especially in the Potomac River Gorge) but I've never managed to spot an adult. How cool! And how wonderful of you to patch up the place--like an attentive landlord should, of course.

I once found a very chilly gray treefrog while rooting under a log in late November and was similarly bemused but exhilarated by the encounter. Will have to keep in mind the Elmer's trick for the future!

It must be a negative side effect of living up north: not many lizards. I grew up with anoles and all kinds of crazy lizards running around, even Horned Toads! (though they're rare now, poor things) I was bitten by a Green Anole once. It hurt!

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