Friday, April 07, 2006

Friday Animal Blogging

Last Sunday, just as I was thinking about what animal to blog next, I opened the door to enjoy our first truly warm day of the year. And in the little alcove leading down into my house, I see this:

Unlike most people who have steps leading up to their house, this step leads down, so the animal was practically in the house already. Here's a close-up:

You're probably thinking, oh wow, a snake! YOU ARE WRONG. It is not a snake. It is a lizard without legs, a reptile to be sure, but not directly related to snakes. This cutie is a specimen of Ophisaurus ventralis, commonly known as the Eastern glass lizard. They have lost their legs independently of snakes, and are hence an excellent example of convergent evolution. Unlike true snakes, legless lizards have eyelids and ears. True snakes lack eyelids so they can't blink, and since they have no ears, they are completely deaf (though they can pick up vibrations through their jaw bones). Unfortunately, not knowing what this guy was at the time, I didn't think to poke at it to get it to blink. However, after I identified it, I could see from zooming in on the above picture that it does have ears, which are located just behind the eye and mouth:

They're called glass lizards because they're fragile. Believe it or not, over two-thirds of the animal consists of tail; all of the organs and other squishy stuff resides in the front third of the animal, so it can literally break into three pieces and survive just so long as the front piece gets away. This is a useful trick to fool predators, who go after the writhing tail pieces and ignore the motionless head and body.

This isn't the first time I've seen one of these guys. Either last summer or the summer before that, I saw one in the yard and got a picture of it:

I have no idea if it's the same animal. The glass lizards are shy creatures, and spend most of their time in burrows. I like to think that there are bunches of them all around the house, feasting on our burgeoning palmetto bug population, but that's probably just wishful thinking.

Anyway, the guy in my entryway was more or less trapped, so I figured I had to help him get over the stair. I picked him up and set him free in the grass, after which he went and hid under the deck, a nice dark place undoubtedly filled with juicy insects. And while he wriggled like mad, he fortunately didn't break into pieces. As for me, I didn't break into pieces either, but I'll admit that when it came to picking up a snake-like lizard with my hands, I pussed out. I wore gloves.