Friday, June 5, 2009

Desert Spiny Lizard Males Fighting

My aunt, who lives about a mile from us, sent us this picture of some great lizard action in her yard. These are Sceloporus magister, desert spiny lizards. The males are each trying to appear bigger and stronger than each other and to show off their blue belly patches. The Sceloporus genus is one of the most successful in North America. They have radiated into almost every above-ground niche to be found--trees, rocks, crevices, grass, shrubs. They can co-exist with each other as long as there is just a subtle niche difference. These desert spiny's co-exist with an almost identical species, Clark's spiny lizard, Sceloporus clarkii because the magisters prefer ground rocks and the clarkiis prefer tree trunks.

I have been patiently nursing my way through Hobart M. Smith's 1946 Handbook of Lizards: Lizards of the United States and Canada. I only read about one lizard description per nursing session and I compare what I read to the National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Reptiles and Amphibians and Peterson's Western Reptiles and Amphibians. Reading the descriptions of field herping in Southeastern Arizona in the 1930s is fascinating; I imagine how many more herps were encountered in such endeavors than could be found today. The thought is both sad and exhilirating. How exciting it must have been to be a herper when the land was rich with critters. I must temper the sadness with hope that people are changing how they think about those beings who continue to share this Earth with us--the survivors.

One interesting thing I recently read in Smith's book about Sceloporus is that the females have a pale white belly without blue patches, except for exceptionally old, large females who may show a pale outline hinting of blue. My friend Jen told me that the more kids you have, the darker and coarser your hair gets. And after menopause, many women grow faint (or obvious) mustaches and beards. So we share this in common with the female spiny lizards, the tendancy to masculanize as we age. Which leads me to think that while we all start off physically as females in the womb, we all end up man-like in the tomb. If we are all borne of womyn, we must also be borne of men; there is no getting around this fact!

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