Sunday, June 29, 2014

Graveyard Super Fun Time

I've come back with a terrible sunburn on my neck and a broken foot. Actually, I don't know if my foot is injured, but it kind of hurts when I walk. Regardless, I'm not into feet. I'm into lizards. They're so interesting that I'll spend all day in a graveyard in the middle of Queens observing and photographing them. Just another completely normal activity for a completely normal person.

What are you looking at?

But these aren't your average lizards. Actually, they might as well be. They're greenish with a long tail, four legs and they're cool. But the killer is that these are lacertids! Which means they're in the family lacertidae! Which means they're originally from the Old World and have no reason being in the Americas. This is concerning because "introduced species are bad," but if you're an optimist  like me, it's really an amazing opportunity to study a species from a completely unique and distinct lineage that is normally unavailable here in the United States.

Apparently a pet shop in Long Island went out of business way back when and with great foresight let loose their stock of Italian wall lizards, Podarcis sicula. Despite New York being colder than their native Italy, the lizards did not die off in the winter, but proceeded to spread around Long Island and various parts of New York City. Someone should give that guy a medal or the key to the city or a Nobel prize. Whichever is the easiest to mail.


Another common name for these fine reptiles is "ruin lizard" because they're often found on rocky wall faces, but it seems that tombstones make a fine substitute. Also, as you may notice from the bit of Hebrew above, this was a Jewish cemetery making me even more of an oddball to see stalking through the graves with a lizard noose and DSLR. Here is a video detailing the habitat and me walking around contemplating whether or not I am disrespecting the deceased.

A lizard does make a quick, barely-visible appearance in this video.
Watch in 1080 and full screen for your best chance of finding it. 

These lizards were extremely abundant and it was hard not to walk a few steps without seeing or hearing one a two dash off into the vegetation or under a loose gravestone. Instead of amazing camoulfage, these lizards rely on their wariness and speed to escape from predators or lizard-crazy weirdos like me. This alertness is visible as you can see the lizard staring back at the camera in some photos.

Get off my back.

As exciting as watching lizards run away from you can be (very) , lizards occasionally do other things too. One tried and true method to observe lizards behave naturally is to simply sit and wait for them to ignore your presence. As I sat on a conveniently placed bench nestled next to some graves, I was soon surrounded by a handful of lizards going about their business, although the lizard in the grave closest to me remained wary and only peeked his head out.

Is he gone yet?

At this point in the day the lizards seemed to be bumming out in the shade, not doing much. But the stiff tension was broken when two large quarreling males brought their disputes to the ground next to my feet. The tail-less male below was being chased by another male with a complete tail. Unfortunately this was more of a chase than a fight, but it was an interesting moment of natural history. Who doesn't love those?!


If you have too much time on your hands and spent a good chunk of time staring at these pictures or reading about lizard biology, you may have noticed the difference in head size between photos. In this case, males have larger jaws relative to females presumably because they spend so much time fighting each other. Males with bigger heads have stronger bite force and defeat punier males and then proceed to take all the ladies, just like in humans. 

Not the best picture to highlight the differences, but the male is on the left. 

And as if you haven't had enough enthralling facts and pictures of lizards today, the peeling sunburnt skin on the back reminds me that lizards also shed. 

This is what my neck looks like. 

Wasn't that just wonderful and enlightening? Knowledge is power and power corrupts, so be careful. 

Chilling in a cemetery.
A female Podarcis sicula bids you adieu from her stone perch placed neatly above a dead man. 

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