TBT - "The Trouble With Lizards"

Today I received a message from a good friend telling me it is 'National Lizard Day'. Considering my long history in dealing with reptiles - this announcement came as a surprise. So I went to the lizard wizard (Google) and found that there is such a day - on August 14th. Just goes to show - no mater how much you know about a subject, you will never know it all.

In fact - the other day I was reading the latest book on evolutionary history and found out why lizards can not run too far without stopping. Their anatomy does not allow them to breathe while running - so they are great sprinters that hold their breath and go for some refuge or into the water to escape. Which now explains some of the capture methods our trappers employed when I used to buy and export lizards in Central America and Vietnam for the pet trade.

Some people find it difficult to consider anything other then warm blooded mammals as pets, but a great many of us are fascinated by all of nature's creatures - be they reptiles, fish, arachnids, or other invertebrates, and enjoy having them being a part of our immediate environment by whatever means. When I started exporting reptiles from Central America in the '70's there was a modest demand for them in the pet trade, and then it grew to the point where today you have thousands of breeders around the world, large and small, supplying the pet industry.

Of course there is the controversy of certain imported reptiles escaping into the wild and setting up an 'invasive species' population. I remember clearing shipments at the Miami airport and getting yelled at by customs and Fish and Wildlife guys because the cheap cardboard boxes containing Curly Tail Lizards from Haiti were always falling apart and hundreds of lizards were running all over the warehouse.

If you go today to the area by Sterling Road and Ravenswood in Hollywood, Florida, you are at ground zero for the original breeding ground for several introduced species of lizards from Honduras. I had been shipping to an importer that had a couple warehouses at that location in 1976-77, and when I came to visit that second year of operation it seemed he had as many lizards outside of the cages as inside them! There was an adjoining lake to the property with lots of brush around it - so those lizards felt right at home.

The most interesting lizards in the world are the Madagascar Chameleons. I really enjoyed dealing with a great variety of them. The spectacular Panther Chameleon is one of the great color shifters of nature - like octopi or cuttlefish. Seeing a video of this phenomena does not even come close to the real experience of seeing it happen with any of these species. Perhaps the most 'from another planet' lizard is the giant Monkeytail Skink of the Solomon Islands. Like Marmosets - they have very strange eyes that seem to project alien intelligence.

The thing that keeps the so called 'invasive species' from moving out of South Florida is the climate. Most of these imported tropical species do not tolerate cold. If you get several nights below freezing you can go around picking up dead or stunned iguanas, basilisks, Cuban Anoles, etc. - and lots of dead parrots too!

When it comes to thinking about changes being made to the natural environment by 'invasive species' - we really need to be more concerned about man's direct impact on nature. Nature is a self organizing system that has done just fine over the last few billion years, and might now be considering us the 'dangerous species'.

And lizards may once again reign over the earth!